Saturday, January 31, 2004

The Truth Shall Set You Free

Thanks to the Wall Street Journal for pointing out what appear to some very good truth-in-politics websites. These websites, both nonpartisan, have undertaken the monumental task (along with us) of calling our politicians on their statements, speeches, and ads when things don't appear to add up. These may be worthy of a link on our main page, depending on what y'all think:

CJR Campaign Desk
FactCheck.org

Just one example from Campaign Desk:

Williams [NPR correspondent] responded, "There's just no history of anyone losing both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary and then going on to win the nomination."

Well, actually there is, Juan. A politician named Bill Clinton lost both Iowa and New Hampshire just 12 years ago, roared back to take the Democratic nomination and, thence, the White House.

Re: The CBO: Obscuring the Problem

Some astounding numbers from the CBO. From the Wall Street Journal, Sen. Kent Conrad, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Budget Committee:

"These aren't short-term deficits. CBO's estimates show that if we continue with our current policies, and factor in the cost of extending recent tax cuts and reforming the Alternative Minimum Tax, the deficit over the next 10 years for the period 2005-2014 will soar to $4.8 trillion, or $7.1 trillion if Social Security is excluded. That represents an astounding reversal from the $5.6 trillion 10-year surplus for the period 2002-2011 that was projected when President Bush took office," Conrad said.

The CBO report can be found here.

Friday, January 30, 2004

Dean Bets Farm On Wisconsin

Joe Trippi out, Roy Neel in. Today Roy Neel posted a lengthy message on the Dean blog highlighting the new strategy to get Dean back in the race. It's a hell of a last-ditch gamble, and I'm not sure I approve, but I found it to be very interesting that the focal point has now become Wisconsin. They are making a fairly weak effort for Feb 3, with Neel claiming 3rd place finishes will be enough. Then they are putting significant resources into a strong showing in the Feb 7-8 Michigan, Washington, Maine contests. But the main focus is to get Wisconsin, in order to have momentum going into Super Tuesday, where the campaign still feels they have a strong following in New York and California. It's good to see Wisconsin have some influence. So, Ryan, we're counting on you.

ps. Here's the footage on ABC's mea culpa for their part in the Dean Scream debacle.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

More Promises...

AP reports here that the "U.S. Military 'Sure' to Catch Bin Laden." The timing sure makes me wonder...

Dean Goes Nuts

I thought this was a neat story from the campaign world, my human interest story for the month... So after Iowa, Dean goes and makes the speech heard round the world. By the next morning various people (including Rush Limbaugh, IIRC) were circulating all sorts of remixes of the speech. An enterprising 21 year-old Deanie decided to register www.deangoesnuts.com and start collecting remixes. In addition to hosting 30-40 different remixes of the speech, he posted his own personal story of why he is supporting Howard Dean. He's been interviewed by the press 30 times, has raised $800 for Dean, and has received numerous emails from folks who were won over by his site. I'm awed by his creativity in subverting an embarrassing situation into a positive resource. The internet is cool. My favorite is the Howard Dean Unchained remix. He's also got an awesome and inspiring non-scream Howard Dean remix that I think the campaign ought to make use of. I challenge any person to listen to that track or to listen to Dean's speech after the New Hampshire primary (available here) and tell me that man is not electable. What crap...

BTW, it's been reported that ABC actually ran the speech on the news today with the crowd noise added back in, noting that the scream can barely be heard over the cheering. Now they just need to run it 686 more times to even the score (the Dean campaign was keeping track).

Wednesday, January 28, 2004

Just the Thing to Read...

...while I'm eating my lunch. Fricken exploding whales. Just wait 'til Al Qaeda gets their hands on a few of those..

Tuesday, January 27, 2004

Presidential Futures Market

PBS's Frontline and Marketplace are sponsoring this interesting experiment, where you can buy and sell futures of candidates (with play money--damn securities regulations). It will be interesting to watch the price fluctuations tomorrow.

The CBO: Obscuring the Problem

The Washington Post is running an editorial today clarifying some of the CBO's recently released deficit numbers. Due, they say, to legal requirements on their projections, the CBO ignores significant costs and calculates the Social Security surplus as part of revenues. The actual numbers for the next 10 years are far more grim. The deficit is likely to reach $1 trillion per year by 2014, and the increase on the US national debt (the present level of which the CBO also grossly misrepresents) would increase multiple times what the CBO has estimated. They also point out that both Bush and the Democratic candidates don't appear poised to do much about this situation. Great editorial, wish people were paying attention.

Monday, January 26, 2004

How to Tell When the Democratic Party Has Gone Awry

Bush advisors say they don't care who emerges from the primary, whoever it is will be crushed by their accusations that he is a liberal. Um, unless I'm mistaken, that is supposed to be the core identity of the Democratic party, just as the core identity of Republicans is to be conservative. Something has gone wrong when the basic value of your party has become an insult, meanwhile the opposition goes parading around about what compassionate conservatives they are...

Questioning the Justification (Round 2)

So, by now we all know that we didn't go to war over weapons of mass destruction, we went to war to stop that Evil Saddam from abusing his people. Well now it seems Human Rights Watch has a few questions about this theory. In their annual report they wrote: "Brutal as Saddam Hussein's reign had been, the scope of the Iraq Government's killing in March 2003, was not of the exceptional and dire magnitude that would justify humanitarian intervention. The Bush administration cannot justify the war in Iraq as a humanitarian intervention, and neither can Tony Blair." Uh oh, time to go back to the list of war excuses...

More poll numbers

There are six, by my count, tracking polls coming out of N.H. As of this morning, with results through Sunday, they show widely varying results:

Zogby/Reuters/MSNBC CNN/USAToday/Gallup Marist Inst. ARG Bos.Globe/WBZ-TV Suffolk U/WDHD-TV
Kerry 31 36 37 38 37 38
Dean 28 25 24 20 17 17
Clark 13 13 11 15 11 10
Edwards 12 10 11 16 12 9
Lieberman 9 10 9 5 7 5


Obviously, these six paint totally different pictures of the race. According to Zogby, Dean is only 3 back of Kerry. The Globe and Suffolk University have the gap at 20+, with the American Research Group close to that. From these results, I suspect the gap is about 10-15. Meanwhile, the commonality is that every poll puts Kerry first and Dean second. After that, it's a jumble. Lieberman is last (or tied) in each, Clark leads Edwards in 3, Edwards leads Clark in 2, and they are even in one. The biggest gap is 3 points. An average of the six looks like:

Kerry 36
Dean 22
Clark 12
Edwards 12
Lieberman 7.5

To compare, here's how it looked immediately following Iowa (from polls taken over 1/19-21):

Kerry 30
Dean 21
Clark 17
Edwards 9
Lieberman 6

Notice at least some positive movement for four of five over the past few days; Kerry has gained 6 points, Dean 1, Edwards 3, and Lieberman 1.5. Clark, on the other hand, has lost 5 points. If this trend holds up, he could finish last. I don't think he will; but I do think he will be 4th.

Finally, some really nice numbers, from Newsweek:

Are you satisfied with how things are going in the U.S.?
Yes 43
No 52

Approve of Bush's job performance
Approve 50
Disapprove 44

Want to see Bush reelected?
Yes 44
No 52

Who would you vote for?
Kerry 49 Bush 48 Bush 49 Bush 50
Bush 46 Clark 47 Edwards 46 Dean 45

John Kerry Has A Howard Dean Moment

In a distinctly un-Kerry-like performance, the Senator said he didn't think the Southern states were that important for a Democratic candidate. This seems very much like a play out of the Howard Dean playbook, because a) I think he's right, b) I think he'll get crucified for it. Ah well, welcome to our world, Senator.

Remembering MLK

Just came across this fairly well put-together multimedia presentation of an MLK speech for peace updated with some current events appropriate images...

Sunday, January 25, 2004

A Little Different Perspective

Check out this video for (literally) a different perpective on the now infamous Dean Iowa speech. Looks a little different when the camera is not zoomed in on Howard and the sound not feeding directly from his mic. Watching that, I suspect Dean and his staff walked off that stage thinking it was a pretty good performance...

Latest New Hampshire Poll

It looks like the New Hampshire primary will be interesting as Dean tries to lick his wounds (including the self-inflicted) from Iowa. The latest Zogby poll shows Kerry leading Dean by 7 percentage points, 30 to 23%. I believe this is an average of the last 3 days. Of note, the latest poll, for Saturday, shows Kerry leading Dean by only 28 to 25%. It remains to be seen whether this is just a statistical anomaly or perhaps a combination of Kerry's momentum fading a bit, with some recovery by Dean.

Friday, January 23, 2004

Kay Throws In the Towel

In the immortal words of Cartman: "Screw you guys. I'm going home." Chief US weapons inspector in Iraq, David Kay has resigned from his role as head of the Iraq Survey Group. Reuters quotes him saying of the WMD's, "I don't think they ever existed." He is to be replaced by former UN inspector Charles Duelfer, who is quoted as saying that his chances of finding anything are "close to nil." Ouch. That's got to hurt. As I was saying about stark differences between reality and the State of the Union address...

Re: Credibility Gap

This is troubling, no question about it. While Edwards has done everything required by law, the fact that he is the only one not taking the extra step of disclosing donors while at the same time making openness and disclosure a campaign theme is problematic. I will be e-mailing the campaign to ask if he's going to make the disclosures, and, if not, if there's a reason beyond "we don't have to." I suspect the list will confirm what we've all been assuming--that there are a lotta lawyers. If not, I'd like to know.

In an unrelated vein, I was bored so I took the govote.com candidate match quiz. There is one caveat: the issues are the same as in 2000, so no terrorism, Patriot Act, or Iraq. At any rate, it gave me Clark, fairly convincingly.

Speaking of hurting animals...

Here is a lethal time-waster.

Credibility Gap

I'm not going to rehash the campaign funding issue. I said what I have to say and stand by those comments. I just wanted to point out an editorial the Washingon Post is running today questioning Edwards's credibility on campaign finance.

Please With Sugar On Top

I've already fired off a one-liner on this issue, and I'm not planning to go into any depth this time either. But what a difference there is between the reality of our desperate need for UN help in Iraq and the strident "we don't need a permission slip" rhetoric of Bush's State of the Union. It amazes me that Kofi Annan still has the patience to deal in good faith with this administration.

Don't Drink and... Stampede?

Maybe they can run a public service announcement about this during the Super Bowl..

Thursday, January 22, 2004

Re: Worth Fighting For (or Pulling a Bush or Money Talks)

First, a housekeeping matter--let's try and keep a consistent headline to our discussions so that it is easier to respond.

I think some of the tension that is created among the candidates (or among the supporters of different candidates) arises because any person who hopes to mount a viable campaign must recognize that money is sadly necessary to run a successful campaign, and recent statistics suggest that money can often be the most controlling factor. So I don't fault anyone for taking contributions from any individual who offers them and for any lawful amount. While it might be a noble stand if a candidate were to refuse any amount more than what every American could afford to give, they would simply not last. Even the "$100 Revolution" is out of reach for many. As Edwards frequently stumps, there are millions of Americans in poverty--yet they deserve a voice in the campaign as much as everyone else. We must work to change our crappy system that equates money with (democratic) power and yet begrudgingly recognize that is the system within which we presently operate.

That being said, I think it's fair when evaluating candidates to factor in who their base of support is. Ideally, every candidate wants to represent the "common person," but the reality is that we are a diverse people and sometimes candidates are forced to pick sides. But on that score donations do not give the entire picture. Regional loyalty, historical affiliations, family ties are equally important when trying to decipher exactly who a candidate works for. It seems fair to predict that someone who has spent a great deal of their career as a plaintiffs' lawyer will approach issues differently than someone who was born into a wealthy New England family (or married into one).

The decision always comes down to affection and trust. I don't think that our electoral process gives me the kind of information I really desire to make that choice as effectively as I would like, but again we must take what we got for now. And at least the choice right now does not require that we choose the "least repulsive" candidate--not yet, anyway (November is still a long way off). Let's be glad that we have a few candidates who are raising some good issues and would likely make some good changes.

It begs the question

Are our president learning? I think I may have the answer though. Buy the man a magazine.

A Lesson In Logic

This was written by someone (don't know his real name) on a forum I frequent. It's a far more concise review of the State of the Union speech than I had...


What a sad state we're in. Here's what I took from the Bush address:

* We can only achieve peace by pursuing unending war
* We can only save our freedom by giving up our liberties
* We can only fix our half a trillion dollar budget deficit by collecting less revenue and spending more money
* We can only grow our devastated economy by renewing our commitment to the principles that crashed it in the first place
* The three million jobs lost since 2000 pale in importance to the 1000 created last month
* We can only preserve the sanctity of marriage by amending the Constitution to deny rights to homosexuals
* We can only insure good medical care by limiting malpractice lawsuits
* We can only show our commitment to America's schoolchildren by denying schools funding while promoting sexual abstinence and mandatory drugs testing


War is Peace. Freedom is Slavery. Ignorance is Strength.

A (not so) brief reply

Obviously I am not going to change your allegiance to my candidate. Nor are you going to change mine. I will pledge that if Dean is the nominee, I will support him 110%--financially and otherwise. I would hope that you would follow the pledge of your candidate should someone else be nominated--as looks increasingly likely.

My responses, in order:

1. Are your interests the same as the average American? Will issues that directly impact lower and middle income familes resonate as strongly with you as with them? Who do you think can afford to be giving $2000? If $300 contributors arguably have a different perspective and priorities compared to the general population, how much more true will that be of people who can afford to give $2000?

This seems like a simplistic view that all people with a certain income level have the same beliefs. You are undoubtedly right that fewer rich people are interested in redistribution of wealth than poor people. However, there is an entire political party devoted to the ossification of wealth. Thus, it is no surprise that there are more wealthy and corporate donors to the Republicans. The ones that through conscience choose to be Democrats should not have to apologize for their wealth--nor should they be accused of having "different perspective and priorities." The important thing is not the average view of people who can afford to give $2000, but the people who actually do. I fail to see how these individuals need to be any different than the people who give $50 to the same candidate.

2. You are a lawyer, you support the candidate favored by your industry

Actually, Edwards's support is derived from the plaintiffs' bar, of which he was a part. This is significant because the interests of the plaintiffs' bar are widely different from those of the corporate defense bar. The plaintiffs' bar is in the business of helping the little guy vindicate his rights against the big and powerful. They oppose restrictions on the access of individual plaintiffs to the courts and on their potential awards. In so doing, they help create incentives for corporations to follow the law and take precautions--succeeding in many cases where the inept regulatory system fails. You tell me how this special interest does not benefit the little guy.

3. The frontrunner argument lacks traction in view of the percentages. George W. Bush may have more small contributions than anyone, but his ratio of cash raised from big money contributors to small donors shows who he depends on for his money. That ratio is heavily tilted in favor of big spenders.

Frankly, I am surprised that Dean has not received more large donations. I suspect that it may have something to do with the risky nature of his candidacy--the main quality his supporters like--and the emphasis on internet fundraising. I certainly am not aware of Dean returning $2000 checks as a matter of principle. My point is more that had Edwards been the frontrunner with his upbeat populist message for six months, his small contributions would be much higher, which would have, in turn, adjusted his ratio.

4. Edwards talk a good game, as I mentioned from my viewing of his speech. But then both parties do. Just about every candidate of any party at any level that runs for office rails against the influence of special interests and big money. But little has been accomplished. Why?

Because the Supreme Court has decreed that money is speech. The organizational interests are going to make their presence felt no matter what. Especially since people still vote for the campaigns money can buy. Short of abandoning capitalism, therefore, the best thing to do is push for full disclosure at all stages of the process. This is how I read Edwards's proposals. I also hypothesize that they have a better chance of being enacted. At any rate, I think he deserves some credit rather than hypocrisy charges for having proposals like these.

5. Both parties let Microsoft off the hook in their anti-trust case, both parties passed the ineffective and pork-laden energy bill, both parties passed Bush's tax cut for wealthy campaign contributors, both parties passed the DMCA and the copyright extensions, both parties allowed the SEC to rot and wither, and when Enron blew up, Democrats couldn't attack Republicans for it despite the clear ties, because they were too far in bed with Wall Street and the accounting firms who were also involved.

I love how the opposition always gets lumped in with the majority. This, to me, is kind of like saying Rehnquist is responsible for Roe v. Wade because he didn't stop it. The SEC, as I understand it isn't even in the legislative purview. Whole lot of Democrats in the Bush administration. I guess it's all Norm Mineta's fault. I also seem to recall a large number of Democrats attacking Republicans for Enron, and even campaigning on it. Edwards himself uses it in his stump speech.

6. Take away all of Howard Dean's $2000 contributions and he's still got more money than any of the other Democrats. That gives him a sort of independence that the other candidates don't have.

Just because he receives donations in different amounts? I agree that the way Dean has conducted himself to this point has shown a willingness to say "fuck you" to pretty much anybody. I guess that that's independence--or arrogance. I dispute that that fact can be gleaned by looking at donation amounts and nothing more.

7. His reform proposals strike directly at the heart of the problem and move the US much closer to a publicly funded campaign model.

Except that he's opting out of matching funds. Which is absolutely the right decision. But it also underscores the fundamental problem with public financing--the opt out option. I think he has some good proposals and hope he--or whomever--finds a way to make them work.

8. I find him to be personally more credible and policiy-wise more effective than Edwards.

This is the fundamental difference of opinion. I absolutely like and trust Edwards, and will be very disappointed if he turns out not to be for real. Dean I am certain will say and do exactly what he wants to at every moment. He's credible until he decides to change his mind. Given that he makes no pretense of hiding the fact that he doesn't give a rat's ass what anyone who isn't Howard Dean thinks about anything, I do question his ability to get things done. Fortunately, as with all the Democrats other than Lieberman, I agree with him 75%+ of the time.

Money Talks

First, to answer your question. You are a lawyer, you support the candidate favored by your industry, you earn approximately 5 times the median US income. Are your interests the same as the average American? Will issues that directly impact lower and middle income familes resonate as strongly with you as with them? You can answer that. On an individual basis that answer may be yes. From an aggregate perspective, probably not. And even you, who earn more than 95% of US households, state that you would give more than the $300-400 you've given now if you can afford it. Who do you think can afford to be giving $2000? If $300 contributors arguably have a different perspective and priorities compared to the general population, how much more true will that be of people who can afford to give $2000?

The frontrunner argument lacks traction in view of the percentages. George W. Bush may have more small contributions than anyone, but his ratio of cash raised from big money contributors to small donors shows who he depends on for his money. That ratio is heavily tilted in favor of big spenders. Edwards's ratio is worse.

I don't think anyone on either side of the spectrum will argue that big money is having a corrupting influence on our political system. Even the Supreme Court acknowledged in their campaign finance decision. This is the form that corruption takes. We don't have a problem with money under the table, with out and out bribes. The problem is that candidates know where their money comes from and they make sure that it will still be there when they come back for more. From the donors' perspective, they simply select candidates who they think will advance their interests and use their money to put them in office. Thousand dollar donors (which used to be the top limit) put over $300 million into the 2000 election. That's a lot of raw political power. With the McCain-Feingold bill that could double this year. Enron employees alone, in the decade from 1990-2000, kicked $6 million in to politicians, according to US PIRG. Just because they are individual contributions does not mean they don't represent special interests. This disporportionate exercise of power undermines the one person-one vote democratic principle.

Edwards talk a good game, as I mentioned from my viewing of his speech. But then both parties do. Just about every candidate of any party at any level that runs for office rails against the influence of special interests and big money. But little has been accomplished. Why? Because they live and die by that money. Being whores to big campaign contributions is a bi-partisan proposition. Both parties let Microsoft off the hook in their anti-trust case, both parties passed the ineffective and pork-laden energy bill, both parties passed Bush's tax cut for wealthy campaign contributors, both parties passed the DMCA and the copyright extensions, both parties allowed the SEC to rot and wither, and when Enron blew up, Democrats couldn't attack Republicans for it despite the clear ties, because they were too far in bed with Wall Street and the accounting firms who were also involved. They can talk all the bullshit they want about special interests and big money. But the evidence shows that when it comes down to it, money talks, bullshit walks.

I've read Edwards's policies and they amount to slapping a few restrictions on registered lobbyists. This isn't the problem. The money, and the dependency of politicians on that money is the problem. As far as I can tell, Edwards would do nothing about this. He likes to make a big deal about being the only candidate not to take money from PAC's, as if that were also the problem. It's not. The total funding Dean, Kerry, and Clark together have gotten from PAC's is less than $100,000. It's small potatoes compared to the $8+ million Edwards has gotten from $2000 contributors. That's 65% of his funding. Without them, he's not even in this race. I can guarantee you he knows that. I don't find him credible on this issue, nor do I believe his reforms would have any significant impact.

Take away all of Howard Dean's $2000 contributions and he's still got more money than any of the other Democrats. That gives him a sort of independence that the other candidates don't have. His reform proposals strike directly at the heart of the problem and move the US much closer to a publicly funded campaign model. I find him to be personally more credible and policiy-wise more effective than Edwards.

Let's not pull a Bush here...

Speaking as a big Edwards fan and one of the "large donors"--we've given a whopping $250 or $300 to date--I think you're being a wee bit disingenuous here. First of all, the small donations always flow to the most popular guy. For both this election cycle and 2000, the guy receiving the most small donations is...George W. Bush. Does this mean he's the candidate of the little guy? What has happened with Dean is that he was able first to tap into the same donor base as MoveOn, and then reap the frontrunner's benefits. Hell, I've sent him about $100 just because I figured he was going to be the nominee. I don't think that I'm going too far out on a limb when I say that had Edwards been described as the "front-runner" and even "likely nominee" for six months, his numbers would be a little bit different.

Second, there's a not so small difference between individual $2000 donors and "special interests." In fact, Edwards has made a big push for reform, both in his speeches and positions. Obviously, Edwards's proposals attack a different stage of the process--but I think their breadth and innovation demonstrates a commitment to reform, as Dean's clearly do. The only special interest which has supported Edwards--and is, I'll admit, responsible for a large number of his big donations--is the trial lawyers. Frankly, I see that as a plus rather than a minus as I personally agree with their issues. In any event, I have confidence in both candidates that they will go after the polluters and the fraudsters; big beef, big oil, and the proteges of Enron. Edwards' corporate reform proposals can be found here. This is not to say that Dean won't also take on these interests. I just have a sneaking suspicion that his bombastic approach might be a tad less successful. Not to mention the fact that I would much rather have a lawyer than a doctor dealing with the health care mess. But I digress.

Third, I note that the donor demographics data provided only has two categories--under $200 and $2000. As noted above, I'm apparently not a small donor. Does this mean that I represent a special interest? If I was more well off than I am, I would have given $2000. What then? I might as well go bribe my congressman, cut down a national forest and erupt a towering geyser of pig shit outside my feed lot.

War is Good For Troops

Cuz otherwize they'd be bored. Thank you for that insightful opinion, Army Chief of Staff, Gen Peter Schoomaker.

Wednesday, January 21, 2004

Worth Fighting For

Today Gov. Dean released his campaign reform policies. They are very aggressive (and progressive) and address an issue that none of the other candidates have really addressed (at least as far as their online policy positions go). Democratic reform is near and dear to my heart and these proposals would mark a major improvement. I once again feel obligated to post opensecrets.org's data on donor demographics in the presidential race. The numbers are stark, and say a lot. I caught a bit of an Edwards speech on cspan tonight, with him railing against special interest big money corrupting politics. Yet here's a guy who has collected only 3% of his funds from small donors. He's only got a little more than half as much money as Howard Dean, but has already accepted almost 3 times as many large contributions as Dean has. He's one to talk about big money and politics.

Dean's topping the charts...

Well, ok, maybe not.

(Thanks, Dave Barry)

We Don't Need Your Stinking Permission Slip

...but if you don't mind, could you cut us a fat check?

Re: Bush and Dean

I largely agree with Joe that Dean needs some sort of bounce-back in New Hampshire. I actually think that with his money and organization, he might be able to survive another 3d place finish--barely--but he would need to win somewhere on March 3. Obviously, that's not much of a scenario since he's better situated to win New Hampshire than any of the seven Feb. 3 states (S.C., Okla., Az., N.M., Del., Mo., and N.D.). Other than Gephardt, the big loser in Iowa was actually Joe Lieberman. The resurrection of Kerry and Edwards freezes him out. Not a bad thing when the night produces a huge surprise showing for my guy (Edwards), finishes my second-least favorite alternative (Gephardt) and puts my least favorite on the ropes (Lieberman). Obviously the damage to Dean will be clearer next Tuesday. I entirely agree that his post-speech may have hurt him as much as the results. I thought he was going for the Jesse Ventura-WWF vote. One note: the polling effects of an event often take a few days to show up, so we should know the true damage by Thursday or so. I agree that Clark also was hurt by the Iowa results. They generated a lot of positive energy for Kerry and Edwards and erased the air of inevitability around Dean. Clark had run his campaign anticipating that Dean and Gephardt would come out of Iowa 1-2 and that he, Clark, would be the guy who stop the frontrunner. Now he's just one of four possibilities.

As for the State of the Union address, I thought it was simply a recitation of Bush's policy positions designed to appeal to the base. There were no surprises, and, as such, it likely will be overshadowed by the campaign rather than vice versa. I tend to agree that he has muddied the waters on the Iraq intelligence enough to keep his supporters from discovering their consciences without lying outright. I frankly was surprised he addressed it at all. I also agree that the prison reentry idea was a really food one. I suspect that it's this year's version of the AIDS research aid to Africa which we hear in the SoU and never again. Either that or it will be coupled with privatized prisons or drilling in ANWR or something.

BBC: Experts Demand Cowboy Cloners Ban

Cause the last goddamned thing we need is a bunch of cloned cowboys. Isn't one George W. Bush enough?

Mr. Bush and Mr. Dean

Some thoughts on the State of the Union speech. First, Bush has great speech writers. He always has. Their use of language to reframe and favorably slant issues is second to none. Credit must be given. Obviously the main point of interest in the speech has to be the statement regarding the Kay Report and the continuing programs of mass destruction. This hardly lives up to the billing he gave the WMD threat a year ago, nor does it answer the charges of deception, but it did adequately wallpaper over the problem enough to make it look like the issue is still in contention, and the war still justified. I still see most of the public ambivalent on this issue (most of the anti-war Democrats in Iowa caucused for pro-war candidates), and I think Bush only needs to provide a minimally credible defense on this to keep them that way. Bush did a nice dance on the marriage issue, stressing how important it is to defend marriage, never mentioning what it was marriage had to be defended against. I was rather entertained by his deficit reduction plan, which just happened to be exactly the same plan as John Kerry (reduce it by half by 2008). This would rob the Democrats of one of their best cross-party campaign issues if Kerry or someone of his ilk gets nominated. Hands down my favorite part of the speech was where he spoke about how strongly he supported the Patriot Act, while the camera focused in on John Ashcroft. At least the Dems will still be able to nail him on that popular cross-party issue. The most curious part was his plan for a Prisoner Re-Entry Initiative. I'm holding out to hear the gotcha in this plan, but as he described it, it sounded like a very good thing (and long overdue at that). If there is no gotcha, I'd have to say it is the best proposal put forth by his administration to date.

So moving on, I've had a little while to digest the events in Iowa. To begin with, Dean blew it, big-time. There were many factors involved, I'll just highlight what I think was the biggest. Dean's competitors did a great job of feeding dirt to the media. Much of it was petty and ultimately meaningless, but there are few things that the press likes better than dirt on a leading candidate. If you can get enough dirt circulating (and did they ever) the perception matters more than content. This, of course, should not have been unexpected. The trouble came when the Dean campaign was left without an answer. They could have come out strong to counter the negative issues, or they could have ignored them and hammered away at their core messages. They did neither. Dean allowed himself to be distracted by the negative press, but never effectively addressed it. And he got creamed. His ridiculous speech the evening after hardly helped matters.

But after a day to reflect, I'm not as forlorn about the situation as I was initially. Dean's money and his big organizational jump on the other candidates in the later voting states leave him in a position that is still strong if he doesn't allow all of his momentum to collapse right away. It will essentially come down to New Hampshire for Dean. If he can finish in the top two, it will erase Iowa, and he'll be back in the game. A finish similar to Iowa and he can write his withdrawal speech. He's got a number of positives going into New Hampshire. First, somebody hit his campaign with a cluestick (I guess if yesterday didn't spark some introspection, nothing would have). The speeches he gave today were rock solid, and the new ad they're running is a huge improvement over what we saw on the air in Iowa. Next, he's closer to home and in a friendlier demographic. Even while he focused attention on Iowa and Clark zeroed in on him in NH, and NH saw all the same negative news as Iowa, his decline in NH was much slower than in Iowa. According to their new polls, the immediate hit he took from the caucus is less pronounced than I would have expected, although Kerry did take the top spot (it looks like Clark absorbed as much of the Kerry surge as Dean did). If Dean survives New Hampshire without being embarassed, I like his chances in the next couple rounds of primaries.

Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Short review of the Bush State of the Union

God Bless America.

Number of times "terror" or "terrorist" mentioned in the speech: 20.

Some notable quotes:
Different threats require different strategies. Along with nations in the region, we are insisting that North Korea eliminate its nuclear program.

We are seeking all the facts. Already, the Kay Report identified dozens of weapons of mass destruction-related program activities and significant amounts of equipment that Iraq concealed from the United Nations. Had we failed to act, the dictator's weapons of mass destruction programs would continue to this day.

Congress has some unfinished business on the issue of taxes. The tax reductions you passed are set to expire. Unless you act, the unfair tax on marriage will go back up. Unless you act, millions of families will be charged $300 more in federal taxes for every child. Unless you act, small businesses will pay higher taxes. Unless you act, the death tax will eventually come back to life. Unless you act, Americans face a tax increase. What the Congress has given, the Congress should not take away: For the sake of job growth, the tax cuts you passed should be permanent.


A strong America must also value the institution of marriage. I believe we should respect individuals as we take a principled stand for one of the most fundamental, enduring institutions of our civilization. Congress has already taken a stand on this issue by passing the Defense of Marriage Act, signed in 1996 by President Clinton. That statute protects marriage under federal law as the union of a man and a woman, and declares that one state may not redefine marriage for other states. Activist judges, however, have begun redefining marriage by court order, without regard for the will of the people and their elected representatives. On an issue of such great consequence, the people's voice must be heard. If judges insist on forcing their arbitrary will upon the people, the only alternative left to the people would be the constitutional process. Our nation must defend the sanctity of marriage.

The outcome of this debate is important, and so is the way we conduct it. The same moral tradition that defines marriage also teaches that each individual has dignity and value in God's sight.

Someone Read the Book

Barry, I thought you'd appreciate these letters to the editor in the Washington Post on coverage of Paul O'Neill and The Price of Loyalty, particularly the second one, which says pretty much exactly what you were saying. I wonder how many of the pundits commenting on this controversy actually read the book...

Monday, January 19, 2004

Oil For Gold

So Dean got whomped in Iowa. More comments on that once the fallout has fallen a bit...

In other news, the rest of the world is getting wise to the plan Henry posted of intentionally pushing the trade deficit so that other countries are holding all the dollars (and dollar debt-load) and we hold all the goods, leaving them in position of needing to prop up our dollars in order to make their holdings worth anything. Former Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad is warning OPEC nations to avoid this scenario by only trading oil in exchange for gold. If his advice were followed, I believe the impact would quite serious.

Comments on WMD in Iraq: Evidence and Implications

I have finished reading through the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report written by Joseph Cirincione, Jessica T. Mathews, and George Perkovich (available here) that been referenced a few times on this blog, and wish to share my thoughts. Mainly, I found the report to be a good synthesis on the statements made by the administration and the evidence (or lack thereof) that is in the public domain, but I am a little disappointed that the report seems to have reached farther than necessary in some of its conclusions. Specifically, the report does not emphasize that it is based on declassified and public information, and that any conclusions that are drawn without a full analysis of the classified material is quite obviously constrained. For instance, some of the "key findings" highlighted in the very beginning of the report are:

- Iraq's WMD programs represented a long-term threat that could not be ignored, They did not, however, pose an immediate threat to the United States, to the region, or to global security.
- With respect to nuclear and chemical weapons, the extent of the threat was largely knowable at the time.
- The uncertainties were much greater with regard to biological weapons.
- There was and is no solid evidence fo a cooperative relationship between Saddam's government and Al Qaeda.


If read with the caveat, "given what is publicly available, it appear's that...," then these statements seem fair. But where does that get us? To the same place that the report arrives at--calling for a nonpartisan independent commissino to investigation the state of intelligence from 1991-present. I just don't see what is gained by the authors stating unequivocally:

Based on what has been discovered in Iraq, it is plain that the dimensions and urgency of the WMD threat were far less than protrayed. Logic and the evidence available to date suggest that the likelihood that Saddam Hussein would give whatever WMD he possessed to terrorists was also far less than the administration believed. And, the belief that deterrence coudl not be used against Iraq appears unfounded. Thus, the threat that woudl be removed by war--the benefit in a cost-benefit framework--was far less than it was asserted to be. (Page 58).

All the same, I think the authors do an excellent job raising questions and tearing down the foundation of the preemption doctrine. They also demonstrate that the administration did misrepresent some of the information that has been made public, so there is good reason to remain skeptical about what hasn't been shared.

The paper offers a quote from Former British foreign secretary Robin Cook, who resigned over the war (his resignation speech may be found here on the BBC's website) that I think is particularly fitting to our administration--on virtually every issue it has faced:

I think it would be fair to say that there was a selection of evidence to support a conclusion. I fear we got into a position in which the intelligence was not being used to inform and shape policy, but to shape policy that was already settled.


The paper argues that the spin did not stop when we began the military operation, but has continued ever since. One of my favorite sections discussed a statement by David Kay on October 2 that Iraq had a "clandestine network of laboratories" and "concealed equipment and materials from UN inspectors," such as a "vial of live C. botulinum Okra B. from which a biological agent can be produced." The report then observes:

Kay's testimony and subsequent administration statements highlighted the discovery of the vial, stored in an Iraqi scientist's kitchen refrigerator since 1993. This was the only suspicious biological material Kay had reported as of the end of December 2003. President Bush said the "live strain of deadly agent botulinum" was proof that Saddam Hussein was "a danger to the world." Several former U.S. bioweapons officials, UN inspectors, and biological experts told the Los Angeles Times that the sample was purchased from the United States in the 1980s and that no country, including Iraq, has been able to use botulinum B in a weapon. Iraq has used the more deadly botulinum A in its pre-1991 weapon program, mimicking other countries' programs, including those of the Soviet Union and the United States. (Page 35.)

I think the report does an excellent job hammering home that the administration resorted to shady rhetorical practice in selling the war, including conflating the threat from biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons as all in one threat--the ominous threat from WMD. President Bush and others made references to "mushroom clouds." And virtually everyone in the administration treated Iraq as though it were an extension of al Qaeda, when no good evidence has been brought to light to demonstrate any connection.

The authors make their strongest points when addressing the Security Strategy. Much of what this report has to say echoes some of the same issues addressed by Record in "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism," discussed below, but a few points are worth highlighting. The report addresses the administration's decision to combine its preemption strategy with worst-case scenario evidence and reasoning:

The President stated the approach on October 7, 2002: "Understanding the threats of our time, knowing the designs and deceptions of the Iraqi regime, we have every reason to assume the worst, and we have an urgent duty to prevent the worst from occurring." Other members of the administration made the case that because our intelligence was imperfect, we had to assume that whatever signs of WMD we did detect was a small percentage of what was actually there. These reasonable-sounding statements describe an approach that is neither safe nor wise.

Worst-case planning is a valid and vital methodology, if used with a constant awareness of its limitations and if care is taken never to confuse the results with the realistic case. Acting on worst-case assumptions is an entirely different matter. To do so is to take the assessment out of threat assessment and largely to negate the billions spent on gathering intelligence. To cite one among many reasons, it leaves one open to one of the most common tactics in the history of warfare: bluff by adversaries seeking to gain an advantage by inflating their own capabilities.
(Page 54.)

And the report also suggests that we should more closely evaluate what residual role deterrence plays in a post- 9/11 world. The administration suspended decades of global security policy by fiat and without second thoughts, because it took for granted that 9/11 changed everything and made this doctrine antiquated. The paper quotes Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld:

The coalition did not act in Iraq because we had discovered dramatic new evidence of Iraq's pursuit of weapons of mass murder. We acted because we saw the existing evidence in a new light, through the prism of our experience on September 11th." (Page 57, quoting testimony Rumsfeld made before the Senate Armed Services Committee on July 9, 2003, available here).

Bowling Together: The Civil Corps

I have been trying to think of viable solutions to the issue of American apathy and complacency regarding the welfare of our society and country. While I do think Henry's idea of transforming the classroom education is a good one, I think something more experiential might have a greater impact. Over New Year's, I talked with Barry about instituting a national Civil Corps for all Americans. This is essentially an extension of the current Americorps and Peace Corps programs, with the difference that this service would become a requirement of high school graduation (or perhaps for any citizen age 18). I propose requiring all American students to serve for one year following their final year of high school. Service would take place both in American communities as well as in relatively stable, safe countries across the globe. Furthermore, I propose that any students who do serve abroad do so in the context of an exchange program. That is, if we send a student to Bolivia, then we should in turn receive a Bolivian student in the United States to take part in the civilian program here.

I believe this program would have a number of important benefits:
1. A civil service requirement would instill a new sense of responsibility to society and to the world in all American citizens, not just those motivated enough to volunteer.
2. Participation in the program would promote involvement in social and political issues.
3. Students would gain valuable manual skills, knowledge, and experience with other cultures. The same can be said of foreign students serving in the U.S.
4. Interactions between other American citizens and those in the Civil Corps would be greately enhanced. Sunstein might view this as an engine for deliberative democracy. With interactions come exchange of ideas, values, and beliefs that are important for generating knowledgeable discussion.
5. American citizens, both in the program and out, would gain greater exposure to foreign cultures. This has the potential to generate empathy and understanding for foreign cultures.
6. Send a message to the world. The United States will not give up on the world. We will not go it alone. We are willing to send our young Americans to serve both our country and yours. These young Americans are not soldiers, they are civilians.

I do know that other countries have such programs. Germany, for instance, requires a year or two service in either the military or civil service before entering college or the equivalent. There are of course, a number of challenges to implementing such a plan. First and foremost, we have to convince Americans that this is worth a year of their children's or grandchildren's lives. We have to convince them that this is a noble and worthy cause that will not only benefit society but also the young adults serving as well. Making service a requirement will be especially difficult, but I believe the effect will be lost if the program is merely optional. Second, such a program would require significant funding, while at the same time diminishing our work force. However, the work of the Civil Corps would go towards improving community infrastructure and living conditions and thus have a very positive economic impact.

To my pleasant surprise, one presidential candidate, Wesley Clark, is proposing a program with some similarities to this. However, Clark's program seems to be more of a civilian reserve that could be called upon in times of need such as forest fires, disease outbreaks, etc. It is also voluntary (I can't blame him) and participants have to make 5-year commitments which are renewable. It is an interesting proposal and I'm not aware of anything similar from the other candidates.

Comments on Bounding the Global War on Terrorism

As Joe pointed out a week ago (see here), Jeffrey Record, a visiting professor at the Strategic Studies Institute (the think tank for the U.S. Army War College) published an criticism of President Bush's military policies. Record's piece is entitled, "Bounding the Global War on Terrorism," and may be found here.

Record conducts a review of several policy papers released by the Bush administration, including The National Security Strategy (released in September 2002), The National Strategy to Combat Weapons of Mass Destruction (released in December 2002), and The National Strategy for Combating Terrorism (released February 2003). Record identifies several flaws found in these documents, several of which I found very persuasive. First, he notes that the policies conflate the threat from rogue states and terrorist groups and that leads to unintended and potentially disastrous consequences, like the war on Iraq. Quoting from Record's article:

Both terrorist organizations and rogue states embrace violence and are hostile to the existing international order. Many share a common enemy in the United States and, for rogue states and terrorist organizations in the Middle East, a common enemy in Israel. As international pariahs they are often in contact with one another and at times even cooperate. But the scope and endurance of such cooperation is highly contingent on local circumstances. More to the point, rogue states and terrorist organizations are fundamentally different in character and vulnerability to U.S. military power. Terrorist organizations are secretive, elusive, nonstate entities that characteristically possess little in the way of assets that can be held hostage; as The National Security Strategy points out, a terrorist enemy's "most potent protection is statelessness." In contrast, rogue state are sovereign entities defined by specific territories, populations, governmental infrastructures, and other assets; as such, they are much more exposed to decisive military attack than terrorist organizations.

Or to put it another way, unlike terrorist organizations, rogue states, notwithstanding administration declamations to the contrary, are subject to effective deterrence and therefore do not warrant status as potential objects of preventive war and its associated costs and risks.
(Page 16-17.)

Record observes that a similar failure to discriminate was made during the 1950s when "Communism was held to be a centrally directed international conspiracy; a Communist anywhere was a Communist everywhere, and all posed an equal threat to America's security. A result of this inability to discriminate was disastrous U.S. military intervention in Vietnam against an enemy perceived to be little more than an extension of Kremlin designs in Southeast Asia and thus by definition completely lacking an historically comprehensible political agenda of its own." Record does not argue that rogue states are not a threat to American security, but rather any reliable strategy must properly distinguish between those states and non-state actors like al Queda.

Another problem that Record identifies (and "the chief problem," as he sees it) is that the goal "is not a proper noun." Records continues:

Like guerrilla warfare, it is a method of violence, a way of waging war. How do you defeat a technique, as opposed to a flesh-and-blood enemy? You can kill terrorists, infiltrate their organizations, shut down their sources of cash, wipe out their training bases, and attack their state sponsors, but how do you attack a method? (Page 25).

Record takes on several statements that Condoleezza Rice has made over the last few years, and successfully demonstrates that the policies outlined in the National Security Strategy are inconsistent and flawed. For instance, Rice published an article in Foreign Affairs magazine in 2000 where she argued that, with respect to Iraq, "the first line of defense should be a clear and classical statement of deterrence--if they do acquire WMD, their weapons will be unusable because any attempt to use them will bring national obliteration." While it is true Rice made this statement before 9/11, it nonetheless seems to support a different strategic approach for rogue nations like Iraq from that appropriate for non-state terrorist groups. Yet that was not the course of action chosen by the administration.

Record takes issue with another Rice quote espousing the "domino theory" of democracy that seems to underly the current justification for the war. Rice stated in August 2003 that "Much as a democratic Germany became a linchpin of a new Europe that is today whole, free, and at peace, so a transformed Iraq can become a key element of a very different Middle East in which the ideologies of hate will not flourish." Record argues that in addition to conflating the threat from rogue states with terrorist organizations, as discussed above, this approach "also ignores the prospect of those opposed to democracy using the democratic process to seize power, as Hitler did in Germany in 1933." (Page 27.) Records asks, "Are U.S. strategic interests in the Muslim world really better served by hostile democracies than by friendly autocracies?"

I would like to highlight one last point that Record makes. One of the goals listed in the the National Security Strategy is to stop the proliferation of WMD and prevent their distribution to terrorist organizations. Again, Record contends that the strategy should be different from rogue states to terrorist groups. And he notes that the best strategy when facing rogue states is to deter the use of weapons, not their acquisition in peacetime. The threat of preventive war, he argues, "may actually encourage proliferation. Moreover, considerable disagreement surrounds the potential effectiveness of proposed new nuclear weapons designed to destroy subterranean nuclear weapons facilities. In any event, the development and certainly the use of such weapons could in the long run prove catastrophically counterproductive to the goal of halting proliferation by undermining or demolishing the [non-proliferation treaty] regime and the now universally respected moratorium on nuclear weapons testing." (Page 29.) He continues:

Paradoxically, explicit U.S. embrace of a forward-leaning doctrine of "anticipatory self-defense" followed by invasion of Iraq may inflate the very threat that is the focus of U.S. policy. It is a mistake to assume that rogue states seek nuclear weapons solely for purposes of blackmail and aggression. Rogue states want such weapons for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is self-protection against enemies also armed or seeking to arm themselves with nuclear weapons. The United States is the greatest of those enemies. It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that rogue states view acquisition of nuclear weapons as a means of raising the price of an American attack. Take Iran for example. Iranian interest in nuclear weapons began under the Shah and was stimulated by having a hostile nuclear superpower (the Soviet Union) to the north, an aspiring hostile nuclear power (Iraq) to the west, and yet another nuclear aspirant (Pakistan) to the east. Throw in a nuclear-armed Israel and a history of violence, instability, and war in the region, and later, a U.S. declaration of Iran as "evil," and you get a perfectly understandable explanation fo Iran's nuclear ambitions. (Page 33).

More than anything, Record's paper illustrates the need to have deliberative discourse in the formulation of policies as important as this nation's security strategy, but it appears the ideology of some make up the whole landscape of debate in this administration. The issues Record raises should be evaluated and our strategy modified if necessary. Unfortunately, that is not likely to happen with this President.

Mmmmm.. Civet Dung Coffee...

I guess there's no accounting for taste.

The Storm

So we're back from two days of wandering around Dubuque wearing silly orange Perfect Storm hats and knocking on doors to spread the Dean religion. We had a good time, froze our asses off, ran into Brian Driscoll (also campaigning for Dean) and got to see Senator Harkin this morning at the Dubuque Dean headquarters (Ryan and I shook his hand, woot). The folks we canvassed were a tough crowd, and Iowa clearly is going to be a hard battle for Dean at this point, but there were some good signs and reasons for hope. Anyhow, imagine my surprise on getting home and checking the news that in among all of the editorials and features about the candidates, the Washington Post is running a lone postcard from the field article about Harkin's stop at the Dean HQ in Dubuque. Below are a couple pictures I took at the event (Ryan is in the center foreground in the 2nd).

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Scrutinizing the Sausage Factory

This week's NOW with Bill Moyers had an interesting article about a website called Factcheck.org, run by the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg Public Policy Center to monitor the accuracy of statements made by politicians.

Friday, January 16, 2004

CBS Refuses to Show MoveOn Ad During Super Bowl

See here (Wired.com) and here (Reuters) for coverage.

The Dean Revolution

Opensecrets, the world's most awesome campaign finance resource, has released some interesting data on the 2004 Presidential Election. The Dean revolution indeed. Percentage of funding received from $2000 donors: Kerry 55%, Edwards 65%, Clark 31%, Lieberman 52%, Gephardt 55%. Dean? 13%. Wow. Percentage of funding from donors of $200 or less: Kerry 12%, Edwards 3%, Clark 35%, Lieberman 9%, Gephardt 12%. Dean? 56%. Wow! Now that's campaign reform! Nice to see Clark comes in a clear number two in these rankings. I think a Dean/Clark ticket would be just about unstoppable (more on this later if I have time). I'm off to Iowa tonight (Ryan and Ceci and Mama B. will be there too), wish us luck!

Watching Sausage-Making

I just wanted to link this as it came up in a recent discussion with Barry. This is the personal web site of political consultant William Klein, with a listing (and links) to much of his published work. Most of his writing has been for the Christian Science Monitor, but he has also written for a number of other publications, including the Washington Post and alternet.org. He draws a good (and entertainingly satirical) picture of the scummy environment of scam artists that politicians have to exist within. It's easy to see how people in Washington have a difficult time maintaining a grip on their idealism and their connection with reality.. As Klein points out, it all comes down to money. Klein likes to quip "Washington is full of people who came to do good and stayed to do well."

Alan Greenspan, Evil Mastermind?

Here's a bit of a guest column, Hank's response to the email with the review of Financial Reckoning Day, posted yesterday:



Just thought I'd give an update on my economy watching (and throw in an opinion about Alan Greenspan).

My crackpot theory about Alan Greenspan is that he is doing all of this quite deliberately. I think that he realized twenty years ago that the American financial situation was already intractable. He wanted to put the world back onto a sound financial footing, but realized that this could not be done without ruining the American economy. He realized, in a very Machiavelian turn of mind, that the extreme exploitation of the existing system, which he thoroughly despised, could simultaneously make America tremendously wealthy and precipitate a financial collapse that would stand in perpetuity as a warning against the excesses of fiat money. Thus Greenspan's primary virtue would be his ability to dramatize. He has convinced the American people that the final boom of the twentieth century was real; and he has convinced the IMF and the world's central banks that he is working to protect their interests, while quite obviously working to the contrary.

Thus we get to the point that we are at today. The world's central bankers have finally begun to put the question to the U.S.: "What the hell do you think you're doing?" On the surface they seem stern, but deep down they're terrified that they might already know the answer. The European Central Bank has finally expressed concern about the declining dollar. This expression of concern indicates a likelihood that the ECB will take action against the plummeting dollar, such as lowering European interest rates (already at the lowest rate since immediately after WWII: 2%). Of course this lowering of interest rates would not stop the dollar's actual fall, but merely pressure the Euro to fall with it.

While the ECB and the BoJ (which, having already established zero interest rates, must exchange Yen for Dollars in massive quantities [the cap on borrowing for this purpose has been increased dramatically for the coming year] in order to pull off their own intervention) scream for the U.S. to normalize its finances, and former treasury secretaries Paul O'Neil and Robert Rubin openly criticize our current economic policies, Greenspan and the current administration continue to laugh off their concern. Their levity is understandable. The White House can laugh because they're insulated enough to ignore the criticism, ignorant enough to fail to understand it if they listened, savvy enough to realize that responding to the criticism would be politically untenable even if they understood it, and wealthy enough to not suffer even if the criticism proves correct. Greenspan can laugh because he knows that Europe, Japan, and China are foolish enough to give us everything they own (via the mechanism of their "export driven economies") in a vain attempt to prevent the U.S. from defaulting on the debt (via inflation, a mechanism that prevents them from ever laying claim to the goods we bought from them with their own money, for technically we will pay the debts, with extremely debased money) which constitutes the entirety of their savings. The inconceivable response of these foreign powers to our debonair fiscal policy is to accelerate their lending.

Hence we see the wisdom of Greenspan's approach. Terminating this cycle would be a painful and shocking process, nothing is more onerous to the politician. As the status quo makes Americans more wealthy there is no reason for our politicians to bear the terrible burden of ending it. Instead we will simply exploit our position to the fullest until the time that foreign pols are able to overcome their shortsighted constituents and bring about the correction that would put them back on an even footing with the U.S. The only potential downside to this strategy is that after the system collapses America's credit with the world will be ruined; but by then there will be nothing left for us to borrow anyway, as they will have already given it all to us. The only alternative is to pay the debt off legitimately; this policy would be ruinous.

Anyway, the recent show of concern by the ECB with regard to the dollar's decline has brought that decline to a halt. The anticipation of European action has induced hesitation as to the Euro's future prospects. Currency speculators who had invested their money in gold as a hedge against the declining dollar have pulled out en mass bringing about a 15$ decline in the last two days. Of course this statement by the ECB changes U.S. economic prospects not at all. The dollar's decline against the Euro may slow but this does not mean that the dollar is strengthening, it simply indicates that the only major currency that had remained aloof from the devaluation has decided to participate. After all, the dollar isn't falling because the European interest rate is too high, but rather because the U.S. interest rate is to low. The result of any change in ECB monetary policy will merely be competitive currency devaluations, an environment that would enhance the value of holding
gold. Thus I would say that this current decline in gold should be a good buying opportunity (which should prove serendipitous for mom).


My mom mentioned in the email regarding the article, that she may start to take some action on Henry's gold buying advice..

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Oh, That Dirty Old Dollar

Here's a little more economic pessimism from me (surely you haven't had enough yet). Thanks to my mom for pointing this one out. A couple of financial writers have a new book out predicting a dollar collapse. They seem to have borrowed a lot of theory from the Austrian school. It's more or less what Henry said, and the ideas are starting to bubble up in more and more unexpected places.

An End to Comparative Advantage

This column is a follow up to the Brookings Institute debate I posted previously, or rather that debate was a follow up to this article. Written by Democratic Senator from New York, Charles Schumer and Reagan administration asst. sec. of the Treasury, Paul Craig Roberts, the article presents a challenge to the idea that comparative advantage is driving global trade, and as a consequence a challenge to the entire Ricardoan theory of the benefits of free trade. I have been tremendously impressed with Schumer, both in the article and in the discussion. He provides a perfect example of a national political figure driving forward a critical public debate on a serious and mature level. Unfortunately I'm not sure his efforts have drawn much attention.

One place where Schumer's column has drawn notice is the Von Mises Institute, which has written a rebuttal. Now, I'm not an economics professor, as the author George Reisman is, but it looks like a fairly weak rebuttal to me. The response is that sure US wages will drop rapidly, but the shift of work to places with cheaper labor will drive value, and the cost of goods will fall faster than income, making Americans wealthier in terms of "riches". Comparative advantage? Bah, who needs it. Additionally he makes a rather specious argument that all of the capital being spent overseas to outsource ends up being reinvested in the US which will necessarily mean that US wages will not fall. I think there are a number of significant counters to this view.

First, is that his last point on wages is fairly silly. What goods and services will this money be purchasing to bring it back to the US? By his own argument, pretty much all of the work that will be left here will be services provided to Americans, which obviously doesn't hold much value to customers overseas. The other option, which is actually what mostly happens now, is that it returns to invest in the US, typically in government bonds. It is a huge leap to assume that this patter will continue as the US economy bleeds productive capacity and the dollar drops like a rock.

So wages will drop. The next item to consider is that not everything will be outsourced. The vast bulk of health care work necessarily must be done locally. These costs wouldn't fall, and in fact are currently spiralling upwards. Many other services would also not benefit from outsourcing (plumbers, auto mechanics, lawyers, etc). While workers who saw their wages drop precipitously may or may not see even more precipitous drops in the costs of some of their expenses (has the price of Nikes dropped since they moved to sweatshop labor?), they would likely find the cost of these static expenses to be crippling. I'm sure Reisman would posit some major shifts in the distribution of the labor force would magically resolve this problem, but that leads me to my next point.

Reisman suffers from the perenial sickness of economists, the inability to see past pretty numbers in a spreadsheet to the human implications beneath them. He could use a good strong shot of Keynsian reality. Massive movements of jobs out of the country and massive movement of workers from their current profession into some sort of fallback position doesn't happen by the turning of a dial on a switchboard. Even relatively small structural changes can send shockwaves of instability through an economic system. And what he suggests is by no means a small structural change. This massive churn of displaced workers comes with a tremendous human cost as our country has a severely inadequate support network for handling and retraining these out of work laborers. Additionally the dire damage to economic sectors being moved overseas cannot help put place serious drag on areas of the economy not directly affected. The economy is a tightly woven network of interdepencies underlaid from top to bottom by mass psychology. Uncertainty and turmoil breed weakness. The formulas say things will work out ok in the end, and eventually they probably would. But in the meantime there will be a lot of pain and suffering, and that is precisely what Schumer is rightly worried about.

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Richard Perle and Paul Krugman Debate on the War on Terror

Democracy Now has the coverage.

Bush Intelligence and Policy Strategy: Close Your Eyes and Plug Your Nose

I just finished reading Ron Suskind's book, The Price of Loyalty, and I found it to be a very worthwhile read (and Dave clued me in that today, Terry Gross interviewed Suskind and O'Neill on Fresh Air--the show is available online). Unfortunately, I think the media has seized on a few glib comments that O'Neill made (and regrets ever uttering) and all but ignores what I find the most disturbing yet unsurprising charge--the theme throughout the Bush administration that policy controls politics, not the other way around. O'Neill states that he had grown accustomed to a deliberative process in the other presidential administrations in which he served, and was shocked and dismayed to learn that the current White House took an entirely different tack. O'Neill claims that he, along with Colin Powell and Christie Todd Whitman, were stranded among a group of partisans who had no interest in advancing debate but rather sought only to advance political objectives. This modus operandi was applied in all areas of "policymaking," but the areas on which O'Neill provided the greatest detail are Iraq and Bush's monolithic budget strategy--cutting taxes.

An October 2003 New Yorker article that I stumbled across supports O'Neill's observations, at least with regard to Iraq. It describes a process known in the intelligence world as "stovepiping"--passing along sensitive intelligence or requests for action up the chain of command without first subjecting the information to rigorous scrutiny. The whole point of the intelligence structure was "to prevent raw intelligence from getting to people who would be misled," according to Greg Thielmann, formerly an expert with the State Department's Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Yet the current administration entirely abandoned the process, according to Thielmann and confirmed by one of his colleagues, John Bolton, currently the Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control. The article quotes Bolton as stating, "I found that there was lots of stuff that I wasn't getting and that the INR analysts weren't including .... I didn't want it filtered. I wanted to see everything--to be fully informed. If that puts someone's nose out of joint, sorry about that." The article continues with a great exposition regarding Iraq's purported attempts to purchase of Nigerian uranium, and other intelligence failures. It also reminds readers of a few sobering quotes from Vice President Cheney that are a far cry from the message they are currently selling. For instance:

August 7, 2002--What we know now from various sources is that he has continued to improve, if you can put it in those terms, the capabilities of his chemical and biological agents, and he continues to pursue a nuclear weapon. He sits on top of 10 percent of the world's oil reserves. He has enormous wealth being generated by that. And left to his own devices, it's the judgment of many of us that in the not to distant future he will acquire nuclear weapons. And a nuclear armed Saddam Hussein is not a pleasant prospect, I don't think, for anyone in the region or anyone in the world, for that matter. (Online NewsHour has a transcript and video at this link.)

September 14, 2002--We do know with absolute certainty that he is using his procurement system to acquire the equipment he needs in order to enrich uranium to build a nuclear weapons.... (The Department of State provides this press release.)

I highly recommend you all take the time to read this article. (Bill Moyers interviewed Thielmann on NOW with Bill Moyers back in June 2003 on the same topic, and the transcript also makes for interesting reading.)

MSNBC/Newsweek provides some additional ammo on the "stovepiping" of information, in this article from December 15, 2003, discussing a memo sent by a member of the Iraqi National Congress to a Congressional Committee. The memo apparently confirms that raw data was sent from the INC directly to Cheney's staff--without any opportunity for the intelligence community to review and analyze the data for its veracity. As the Newsweek article observes (and the New Yorker article concurs), much of the information provided by the INC was highly unreliable and has since been proven false.

A Wizard Should Know Better

Dave, you make a very compelling argument, and I agree that much of the responsibility here has to fall on the electorate. However, I am unable to dismiss out of hand the responsibilities of people in positions of power, from the candidates themselves to the pundits and campaign strategists to the party committees and editorial boards to reporters and many others. While each one of these has a duty to compete for public favor, and as such to play to their audience, they also have the power to shape public perception and to influence to the way the public considers the ideas and issues raised in the political sphere. I think there is a great danger in allowing their responsibilities to be shaped in a purely competitive, sort of cut-throat Darwinian sense where their only directive is to beat the other guy. I think these people all carry a responsibility of public service that they should hold in equally high esteem. And they should know better.

This touches back to a number of our previous discussions. In part it comes back to my feeling, discussed in many contexts, that successful democracies require substantial cultural buy-in. You could write the best democratic governmental system with the most amazing constitution ever, and if you dropped it in on China or any number of other countries, I can pretty much guarantee you it would fail. People have no faith in public institutions and the public and political figures alike, up and down the power structure, expect corruption to be the name of the game. It's not even regarded as we regard corruption here. It's just business as usual. No democracy can survive that cultural background. Our own democracy teetered on the brink for its first couple decades and succeeded only when a number of great men established the strong democratic traditions and culture that made it work. Where would we have been without the likes of George Washington or John Marshall? It is often said that Washington could have kept his post permanently if he had chosen and could have effectively ruled as king. This is not an uncommon situation in new democracies and has been the demise of more than a few. Georgia (the ex-Soviet republic) recently only barely escaped that fate, and only because the democratic culture had strongly taken hold with both the populace and the military leadership. I feel that it is not absurd to attach responsibilities and expectations to participants in the system that are not (and often cannot be) specifically required of them by the laws of the land (which these participants often have the power to mold and reshape), and that may at times conflict with their desire to win at any cost. Rather this is a necessity. The right culture is a necessity.

Additionally it touches on our discussions regarding intellectualism and behavioral flaws and such. We've frequently questioned how realistic it is to expect the public to move en masse towards intellectualism, and how susceptible the public is, of no fault of their own, to behavioral flaws and behavioral manipulation. As much as I agree that the public is functioning at a level far beneath its potential, there are legitimate questions as to what level of expertise and insight we can really expect, even under good circumstances. The press and politicos are, as a group, better educated than the general public, and through their specific job functions far better informed on the relevant topics than the general public. This knowledge combined with the fact that their job puts them in the position of speaking to the public on these issues means they, more than anyone, have the opportunity, and I believe the duty, to steer the public right on these topics. If the public is to gain a better understanding of these topics, where else would it come from but the press and the politicians themselves? As Treebeard says, "a wizard should know better."

This last point also leads me back to our discussion of revolutionary thresholds and the tie-in to George Orwell's 1984, where he had a very similar point to make. In 1984 the government had gone to great efforts to construct a perfect system for stifling dissent among educated and relatively upper class citizens, but completely and utterly ignored "the plebes". This general public, in the eyes of the government, was completely harmless, as they are essentially a reflection of what they are fed. Pacify the movers and shakers and you have pacified the plebes. This, I think, is a danger of the movers losing sight of their public service duties and simply playing to the crowd. It becomes a feedback loop on a downward spiral. It doesn't seem that they ask for much, so you don't give them much, they reflect this and ask for even less, you oblige, etc, etc.

What I'm getting at is that a) it is ok (even necessary) to demand certain sorts of behavior out of people critically involved in the political process, b) the fact that they are simply giving the audience what it wants is not a valid excuse, c) it seems reasonable that one of the behaviors that it makes sense to expect is that these people involved in the political process should have a duty to help illuminate the truth of our political issues, instead of obscuring them for personal gain. They have a duty to inform rather than pander. For better or worse, most of what the public knows about political issues come from the way they are dealt with by politicians and the way this is covered by the press. If we are disgusted about what people know about political issues, we need to also be disgusted about the way politicians and the press handle them.

I understand the the point that it's the job of the media to appeal to the audience, because if they don't they'll be put out of business by a competitor that does. And likewise I can see the perspective that if a politician doesn't play to the crowd they'll be beat by the one who does. And this touches back to yet another discussion I recall from one Boys' Weekend or another regarding that fact that in certain respects capitalism and democracy are in conflict with one another. They have competing value systems, the one promoting this Darwinian win at all costs or die approach, the other driven by principles of equality and inclusion and the sense that each person should share equally in decisions. I think what leads to your sentiment that politicians and the press can't be blamed for playing down to the stupid public is an application of the capitalist value system onto the democratic political model. And I just don't think that's a sustainable paradigm. We need to recapture our sense of democratic values, our sense of civic duty, our "ask not what your country can do for you..." And where I see this need most pressing is with the politicians and the press, the people who should know better.

Now, I need to note here that I am on the record as being very much opposed to people trying to solve systemic problems with calls to personal responsibility. It just doesn't work. You can't solve the welfare problem by telling people to get off their ass and get a job. I realize I am dangerously close to this with my position here. However, I really do believe that culture plays a critical role here, and I'm not sure how else you can approach this. Really if the right culture is in place you shouldn't have to be placing these movers in a position where their public service and competitive objectives are in conflict. These people should be policing each other. When some member of the press or politics sells out on their public service duties the others should call them out and ride them down. We've gotten so far from this model that there does exist this conflict though, and it's hard to tell where to go from that. However, I think the least we can do is for those of us who are cognizant of this problem to try to penalize the bad actors and reward the good ones as best we can. We should not excuse people just because they are playing the game. If their peers won't call them out, at least we can.

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Re: the great rant (here's one of my own)

I think that Joe gets to the real problem in the last paragraph of part 3. I maintain that the American people are the problem, plain and simple. We are a nation of lazy, overweight, spoiled, barely literate, jingoistic, obnoxious jerks with microscopic attention spans. We expect every problem to have a solution that requires minimal effort and sacrifice on our part. Lazy? Buy an SUV. Overweight? Take diet pills. Unsuccessful? Blame _______ [pick your favorite: the government, the Republicans, the Democrats, whites, blacks, Jews, the Japanese, the Chinese, the Europeans, the Mexicans, your parents, your children, Navin R. Johnson--random bastard, etc.] We have so many sources for virtual and alternate reality now that we have lost our ability to face up to the real one. We truly want to have our cake, eat it, and then not have it go to our asses.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the most popular and electorally successful ideas are those that can be expressed in bulletpoints--preferably involving only one or two syllable words--and involve people GETTING more and GIVING less. Never mind details such as the long term success of the economy and the nation as a whole. Fuck tradeoffs. Fuck difficult choices involving benefits and drawbacks each way. We don't do drawbacks. We're Americans!

How did we get this way? I don't know. Each of us could easily write a book on the deterioration of the American community and corresponding decline of culture--the rise of consumerism and the decline of anything involving strenuous effort, including intellectual pursuits. How do we change this? I think educational revamping is helpful, but we are talking about a fundamental change in Americans' values. I think using religion as a vehicle to combat sloth and materialism would be enormously helpful, if it can be done. Otherwise, we simply need to convert people little by little.

What does this all have to do with our political leaders, specifically the Democratic presidential candidates? Not a whole hell of a lot. Which is the point. I fully support all efforts to inject honesty, both general and intellectual, into our political discourse. I realize, however, that when you have to convince a nation of underinformed spoiled brats with short memories to vote for you, honesty is usually not the best policy. I can hardly blame politicians for giving the public what they want to hear--especially when it's a dead cert that if they don't their opponent sure as hell will. It would be nice if both candidates in an election would just agree to be honest about the problems that face us and their solutions, along with the accompanying benefits and drawbacks. The incentive is always there, though, to cheat and bury the other guy.

I agree with Joe that it is imperative that we change the electorate. Until we do, however, I just can't get upset about candidates who pander and take shortsighted positions to get elected.

Politicizing Academia

Having pretty well destroyed their long time nemesis, the liberal media, conservatives have now set their sites on another of their hated foes, the liberal academics community. Led by Daniel Pipes an attack has been launched at Middle East studies programs at various universities. If successful, I think there can be little doubt that it will spread to other schools, other subjects. The tactics range from email and phone campaigns harassing and insulting professors to an effort to gain control over federal funding of these programs in order to dole the money out along political lines. President Bush has shown at least passive support for Pipes's efforts by appointing him as a director of the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Egg On Face

A guest professor at the US Army War College has released a report, receiving wide circulation, criticizing the Iraq war as unnecessary and a distraction from the mission against terrorism. The article does not provide any background on Jeffrey Record, the author. A bit of googling turns up references to him as a former advisor to the state department, a former member of the staffs of Senators Sam Nunn and Lloyd Bentsen, and as a professor of strategy and international security at the US Air Force's Air War College.

Topical Boysweekend

You may notice a couple of new features here at Boys Weekend Journal. First is the wonderful Mojo Jojo icon that Barry put on the site. Second is a link up at the top of the page to BWJ by topic where our past discussions are archived by topic. I don't know if it's useful to anyone, but I thought it would be nice have as we approach our second year and our archives have gotten fairly unweildy. I've only added posts through last October so far (it's a damned lot of cutting and pasting). I'll finish up tomorrow, then plan to update it once each month or two. Thanks to Barry for getting us some web space for the archive. The bloghome link next to the BWJ by topic link will return you to this page... Let me know if you have any thoughts or suggestions on the sorting or categorization of the archive, or any other features you'd like to have on the journal (and, no, I won't put any naked girly pics on it).

Monday, January 12, 2004

Put It On the Tab

We are just setting records all the time. All time highest budget deficit, highest government debt level, highest trade deficit, lowest valuation of the dollar vs Euro... And now the US has for the first time ever surpassed $2 trillion in consumer debt. Yay for us! Consumer debt levels have doubled since late 1994. In light of all these numbers, how people can think we are in the beginning of a real economic recovery is beyond me. It may be that we are starting to see the split occur between the US economy and the stock market which covers an increasingly internationalized portfolio. I think we've discussed this before, and it is also mentioned in the Brookings discussion. As multinationals become more internationally based, it allows the stock market to perform well even as the US economy goes in the toilet.

Sunday, January 11, 2004

Best Globalization Discussion EVER

Click here, then select the 1/7/04 Brookings Discussion on US Trade Policy. Awesome panel, awesome discussion, fascinating points raised. Senator Schumer rocked the house, and he and Roberts diagnosed and presented the issue in a very concise and powerful manner.

Get Your MoveOn Votes In

I think today is the last day for voting in MoveOn's competition for the Funniest Ad, Best Youth Ad, and Best Animation. There are some very entertaining nominations. In case you missed it MoveOn's contest has gotten a boatload of national attention due to the presence of a couple of submitted ads that compared Bush to Hitler. The Republican propaganda machine caught wind and started . cranking . out . more . attacks . than . you . can . shake . a stick . at. My favorite is this column which attempts to shame MoveOn for their support of Bill Clinton's obstruction of justice and perjury. It's written by Oliver North. That's rich. Certainly not all of . the press . has been bad. And arguably this is one of those cases where no press is bad press. In the past week MoveOn has established pretty significant national recognition, and when their national ad runs come State of the Union time, there will be a lot of people looking for it.