Yankee Blog

Friday, February 27, 2004

He wrote the book...

I have been a bit worried about the protectionist rhetoric from the Kerry and Edwards (more Edwards than Kerry). I have not paid that much attention to Edwards, but Kerry's positions seemed designed to make the point that he knows trade has some downsides, and that it must be regulated (to some degree) just like every other economic activity (even if that just means contract enforcement). But he has always been careful to promise nothing.

I even got into a little exchange on the Drezner comments section (which I spared all of you) making the point that while the Dems are talking about trade in not glowing terms that does not mean they are turning their backs on it, or that they are in danger of losing the support of the sane Democratic economists in the world (most vocally at this point Brad DeLong and Paul Krugman).

Well, today Krugman confirms what I was thinking. After making the point that he wrote the book on Internation Economics, which I have read, he says that Kerry's proposals are a neccesary saftey valve to prevent protectionist rhetoric from taking over Congress. The main point is that trade has winners and losers. The net benefit is positive, but that does not mean we cannot be considerate to the plight of the loser. Well, just read the article, I have work to do.

Blogging will likely be very sparse for the next week. I am going skiing.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Afghanistan is a pretty insular place; in the half a year I've lived in Kabul, I've had perhaps five conversations with Afghans about events taking place in another country. So I was a bit surprised when three Afghan colleagues of mine approached me independently last week and asked me why gays were getting married in America.

Each time, I explained what I knew of the situation, and each time, the colleague reacted in horror. One said, "Well, that is fine. But there will be great disease because of this." Another argued that Americans would stop having children. (I tried to explain that even with the new menu of marriage options open to me, I still planned to wed Ms. Pedro, but he didn't find that convincing.)

These guys are all very bright -- they are some of the best educated and most capable people that Afghanistan has to offer; I would not at all be surprised at all if they are all Ministers or Deputies in 15 or 20 years. But some of the things they believe are simply astounding. I'm not asking for them to share my values -- or even fully understand them -- but I was taken aback by their unwillingness to consider other ideas.

If anything, these three are probably on the liberal end of the spectrum in Afghanistan. I think beliefs here are partly forged by the culture, partly by Islam and partly due to a lack of external ideas. It seems to me that change is only likely to come through western media -- which I guess is why conservatives are so opposed to that.

Wednesday, February 25, 2004


You hear a lot about money in politics. And every once in a while you hear a story about who gave how much to who. For the first time I decided to take a look at the FEC web site. It is incredible. Want know who your wealthy uncle is giving to? Put in the name. How about your neighbor, your boss, your friends? Just put in the name and there are the donations. I feel guilty just looking at all this stuff. But there is a wealth of information right there, check it out and see what you learn.

So far I have learned the Steinbrenner doesn't stick to party lines in donations, that my employer gave to Bush in 2000 but more to Evan Bayh since, that my former boss gave a pile of money to the Massachusetts Republican Committee (and Evan Bayh), and a bunch of other stuff. I am starting to feel bad, but I can't stop doing searches.

From Atrios...
I just had to copy this entire post because it is so short and sweet:

Campaign Slogans

Tbogg has some suggestions for Bush/Cheney '04 slogans.
The official slogan (really horrible I think) is "Steady Leadership in Times of Change." I forget where I saw this, but someone around the 'net suggested the following alternative:

Don't Switch Horsemen Mid-Apocalypse

It's funny 'cause its true.

Insights on the Bush Administration...

Josh Marshall of the Talking Points Memo has a link to the transcript of the latest Ask the White House online chat with "Administration Officials and Friends of the White House." The chat is with NASCAR driver Michael Waltrip, leading me to wonder what insights he is supposed to provide on our country. My best attempt to parse what was said leads to some interesting insights on some new administration policies. Here is what I mean:

Question: I know Dale Earnhardt Jr is your teammate, but I don't totally understand the concept...It would seem to me that the sheer competitive nature of the sport would make me want to win even if it meant sacrificing the team effort.

Waltrip: The reason why we have teammates is that we do want to win every race. Our teammates allow us to have extra funding...We have teammates simply to cut costs.

I think this question is really about war and fighting. And Waltrip is implying that friends (allies) make it cheaper, and thus make you more competitive. It is laying the groundwork for future Administration attempts to convince the electorate that contrary to their earlier "our way or the highway" approach to foreign policy they are going to be cultivating allies. And they want NASCAR fans to know this is not a bad thing. Then there is this one:

Question: Hey, if you could change one rule in nascar what would it be? Or two rules?

Waltrip: I would just put the front of the car way up in the air so it couldn't get sucked down to the ground to try to defeat some of the aerodynamic gains that have been made in recent history. So a high air dam in the front I think would be my one rule and I want to change it now.

All that talk about air makes me believe he is really talking about Clean Air policies. I am not a scientist, but I think he is saying that we can build dams around polluting power plants instead of asking them to upgrade their clean air technology.

Question: Favorite track? Why?

Waltrip: Daytona, because it is the most famous track and it is the one I like the best.

This is clearly just an attempt to get in good with Florida voters. We all know it is one of the few battleground states with a big NASCAR track, so this answer is pretty much a no-brainer.

Question:You guys are in your cars for a long time. What if you have to hit the bathroom?

Waltrip: I get this question all the time. Well, you hold it. You can't cross your legs. So you just gotta get really good at holding it.

I think he is talking about the war on terror and how our nation needs the will needed to persevere...even if the going gets really tough, and the easy solution is not possible.

Question: What do you think of Bobby Labonte promoting the Passion of the Christ on his car?

Waltrip: I think it is great. I'm a Christian and when I look up and see clouds and Christ's name on his hood it takes me to a happy place. I'm really glad that we have the ability to make decisions like that that are obviously influential in a positive way on lots of people.

Bush is sending one of those secret coded messages to his base. I am Jewish so I don't understand exactly what the meaning of the clouds are and all that, but clearly this should be noted by Biblical scholars and shared with the world to provide the rest of us with some insights on Bush's plans. There is a lot more, but the last one I have time for now is:

Question: i am from Germany, sorry my English is bad... Mr. Waltrip: Are you interested at the Motorsport in Europe Formel 1. You have fun to drive in the Formel 1 ??? behind Michael Ralf Schumacher, Pablo Montoya and .... ???

Waltrip: Well, probably not.
A) I am too old.
B) I am too big.
C) I can't speak any foreign languages.

Lest all that touchy feely stuff about friendships doesn't go over well, the Administration wants to be clear on this: Foreigners are strange, they are small, and while they can help make things cheaper, we are still better and have no real use for them.

All in all I am very glad that our tax dollars were used to provide a platform for Michael Waltrip to share his thoughts and thus provide us all with such great insights on the direction of our nation and the people who are leading us. It was an invaluable insight, and as long as the White House is so open directly to the people you can see how they might not have much patience for dealing with the press.


Everyone knew that it was coming, but President Bush's declaration of support for an anti-gay marriage constitutional amendment has generated a lot of press and opinion. While the mainstream press seems to be playing this as a no-brainer for the President the blogs have a much different take. From the spectrum that I read last night there are a variety of views, but most of them are quite skeptical that this will work out well for Bush. While an amendment defending the right of gay marriage would probably be just as unpopular, it seems that this one is generating quite a bit of discomfort among the right.

My opinion is that this is a political move the President had to make, and that he was not happy to have to make. I agree with those who say that pushing any thing that is biased against groups of people is not going to be popular. The best essay I saw on this was from TAPPED. In the end I think that Bush would rather take a position like John Kerry's, but his base of support would not allow that. So he is stuck taking a position that only maintains his base, while not doing anything to expand support. Not really the kind of issue that I think he really wants to be talking about at this point.

An aside: I think that blogs are getting much better. People are learning how to write for the format and producing the kind of off the cuff pieces that blogs were made for. At the same time they are doing more to becoming a collective journalistic body, rather than just one person writing. This thing just might be here to stay.

Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Too good to pass up...

I mentioned a few days ago that the Bush adminstration was looking into re-classifying fast food jobs as manufacturing. Fortunately a Congressman with a sharp tongue noticed as well. It is worth a read (link via TAPPED...again)

False Alarm...

The news that Kraft might be interested in Aston Villa has generated a fair bit of interest. Reports today are that it was a total rumor and that he is saying he is not interested. Of course this would not be the first time a person has denied a pending acquisition while pursuing it, but I tend to believe Kraft over the News of the World (original source for the rumor).

Sunday, February 22, 2004


There is a rumor (and a total rumor at that) saying that Robert Kraft (owner of the New England Patriots) is thinking of paying 20 million pounds to buy Premiership club Aston Villa. If this is true it fits with my view that the time is ripe to make a lot of money by integrating Premiership football into the US sport environment. Kraft is the owner of the New England Revolution of the MLS, giving huge opportunities to share players, share promotion, and create joint marketing.

I shudder, and hope...

I read a whole series of notes, articles, and opinions yesterday that left me with the feeling that Bush getting re-elected would be both a total disaster and a total longshot. With this kind of stuff bubbling up from every crevice it boggles the mind that anyone could think otherwise. Also, this list makes me feel that mis-management of the nation will be uncovered within 4 years and not rewarded with another term...in other word, good politics will only get you so far, good policies have to be there as well. Anyway, these are the kinds of things I am thinking about:

TAPPED on the flimsiness of the Bush Smear Machine

TAPPED (again) on the idiocy of trusting exiles as an intelligence source

TAPPED (still again) on the answer to declining manufacturing...call McDonald's a manufacturer. - This one you really should read, it is so absurd that it defies reason.

TAPPED (on and on) regarding the inability of Republican spokespeople to keep track of which scandal they are defending against. - This one also includes the scary item that the GOP is using the Dept of Education to get information about Democratic campaign strategies.

Josh Marshall on the absurdity of some GOP attacks on Kerry.

The AP story on Kerry's scathing letter to Bush about campaign tactics and integrity on national security. - I am not sure a letter at this stage is the way to go, but if it scares the Bush campaign off from attacks regarding national defense than Bush stands no chance.

Josh Marshall on the bubbling problems the GOP are going to have on stealing Democratic files. - Apparently this one is likely to find its way into the White House and the Senators are already asking people to be a little realistic in their defenses, since clearly there was some wrong-doing and likely law breaking.

Josh Marshall (again) on the craziness of the White House's job numbers.

Kevin Drum on the GOP response to intelligence failures.

George Packer (The New Yorker) on the complete failure of Bush foreign policy. I should mention Democrats are not much better according to the article...but it should be read.

The New Yorker (again) on the host of problems that could be raised from the adminstration's relationship with Halliburton.

The Decembrist comparing special interest money to Bush versus Kerry.

What I couldn't find are the articles regarding the absurdity of Bush's attacks on Kerry's special interest money. The basic line there was that the GOP were arguing that Bush was not a hypocrite because he happily takes Special Interest money into the White House, while Kerry is bad because he plays the game yet wants to change the game at the same time.

Also missing from the news this week...but might just be on hiatus are: The Valerie Plame investigation, the stonewalling of the 9/11 commission, the uncertain situations in Iraq and Afganistan, and the absurd push for tax cuts. All the GOP has left is faith-based economics (we hope the jobs will come back...soon) and the gay marriage issue. I am quite skeptical the latter is really the first issue on the minds of most Americans.

But in the end it comes down to trust. All of this is slowly eroding the trust Americans have in George Bush, and without that trust he does not stand a chance.

Saturday, February 21, 2004

It makes me wonder...

There is a long article in the New York Times about Rudy Guiliani's consulting business. I read the first page, and will read the rest soon. But my quick question is: Would I vote for Guiliani if he ran for President?

Could an independent minded, former Mayor of NYC be able to overcome the forces of evil that are dominating his party?

Just keeping them honest...

It is hard to tell where the Oxblog found this quote on the Yankees (might just be an email), but reprinting it is bad enough:

Maybe he (A-Rod) will actuallyhurt the Yankees because there will be "too many cooks" and he won't react appropriately. No telling how Derek Jeter will react to another young, handsome, talented Latino in NY...this has all the makings of a "what went wrong?" scenario.

David Adesnik follows with just the comment, " never thought Jeter was all that good-looking, but that's probably not the point. " And he is right, that is not the point. The point is that any baseball opinion from someone who thinks that Derek Jeter is Latino should be totally ignored. A little lesson for anonymous man is that Black + White does not equal Latino.

My thought on the trade is that I don't think it is as great as everyone thinks. Boston fans are despairing because the Yanks got A-Rod while they missed out. But the Yanks did give up Soriano, so the trade-up is not as great as if they gave up a few prospects. I also think that a few weeks into Spring Training the Yanks are going to figure out what is their better defensive combination (A-Rod at 3rd, Jeter at Short or vice-versa) and go with that. Jeter is too much of a team player to refuse to move if they best possible defense is him at 3rd.

Friday, February 20, 2004

Quick hits...

I think that my blogging is going to be sparse over the next two weeks. Work and then vacation are calling. But I will try to throw out some quick posts when I get a chance.

First: To Pedro's list of combinations that would be ideal, I think I would like to have Kerry's heroism in that ideal candidate.

Second: I was thinking about the race last night. The conventional wisdom is that Edwards lacks the resources to compete and will be hard-pressed to get his message out. The emerging Kerry line is that he says what he needs to in order to win. Combining these I think an unconventional, yet genius move by Kerry would be to agree to only spend what Edwards does in the run up to the March 2nd primaries. This would have several benefits: 1) It would show that Kerry is committed to having the process find the best possible nominee. 2) It would save Kerry money for the General Election 3) It would be seen as a courageous decision by Kerry and one that would certainly win him points going into the general election (as well as give a chance to ask Bush to agree to the same thing...which he will not). 4) It would allow a Kerry victory on March 2nd to be the end of Edwards because there would be no rationale for Edwards to push on. Am I crazy to suggest this, or is it a genius political strategy?

Tuesday, February 17, 2004

A quick roundup of recent news:

  • John Kerry is presumably coasting to the nomination. I'm in the uncomfortable position of hoping for a John Edwards comeback, even though several of his political positions give me the willies. Well, one in particular: trade. Memo to John: in the long run, North Carolina is not going to be better off if we continue to lavish subsidies on the textile mills. Why can't we combine Clark's foreign policy, Dean's (former?) fiscal conservativeness, Edwards personae and Kerry's luck?
  • The Bush national guard issue. Reading some of the gaggle transcripts makes me think that Bush's aides are really hiding something. I'm not sure how much I care about the whole story, but geez, Scott McClellan really sounds like he's going to lose it -- why would he care so much about a non-issue?
  • The Yankees traded for Alex Rodriguez. Good for them. I think this really strengthens them for next year (and makes them the favorites to win the World Series). Sure, they take a hit, now that they've traded away both of their young position players and have lost any payroll flexibility they may have had, but A-Rod is the second best player in the game, and they're getting him at a good price. The only part about this that makes me happy is that the Yankees are apparently going to keep Jeter as shortstop, which ranks up there with the worst baseball decisions of all time.
  • Israelstine's still tooling around the desert, trying to find its way back to the Road Map. I mean, what's it going to take to get the two sides to compromise? Ok, we already know the answer: US pressure. So where is it? Maybe I'm naive, but I think that Bill Clinton would have an agreement in place, were he president right now. I mean, it sure seems like a lot of people agree about what needs to happen; just not Sharon and Arafat.
  • What's going on in Iran, anyway? Why did Khatami desert the reformers? Do we want the public to vote in the election, lending credibility to a joke, or do we want them to boycott, ensuring that hard-liners take over the parliament?

I generally like Nicholas Kristof (although anyone compared to Brooks and Dowd seems pretty good), but his latest column leaves something to be desired.

Kristof argues that the United States has failed the women of Afghanistan because their lives are little improved over when the Taliban ruled. Wow, where to start? I guess I'd better first include the disclaimer that the place of women in Afghan society has been the greatest shock of living here for me. An Afghan colleague of my fiancee's made the comment that he'd "rather kill [his daughter] than have her work" at their company. And there are certainly more than a few people in this country who agree.

But to say that life has not improved for women over the past 30 months is just plain stupid. It's not even worth addressing, so I won't. As to whether the United States could be doing more: that's a tough question. Concerning health statistics, it's a little much to expect them to have improved already, and USAID is spending tens of millions of dollars to improve rural health, so I think it's a little unreasonable to blame George Bush for this. And besides Kristof's example of the Supreme Court (which has next to no power in its current incarnation), most of what he wrote about is occurring outside Kabul.

And that's where you could fault the United States. The Afghan government has little control outside the capital. If Ismail Khan wants to conduct virginity tests in Herat, President Karzai can't do much about it. If the US has failed Afghan women, it's because it hasn't extended security and allowed Karzai to exert more influence over the entire country. It's not because the US has ignored women's issues.

The way women are treated here is deeply ingrained in the culture. It's not going to change overnight, and it probably shouldn't, unless you want civil war to break out. There are a lot of things in Afghanistan for which the United States deserves blame, but the subjugation of women is not one of them.

Interesting city discussion...

I came across this article from some Harvard conference discussing the benefits of density. I am of the opinion that density, when properly done, is a great thing. Density allows public transit to be convienient and amenties to be within walking distance. Sure it makes parking harder, but it makes a car less neccesary. I think it is one of those topics that is pretty much a no-brainer. However, there are a lot of barriers. The first is people's perceptions. Density is associated with cities and cities are associated with crime. This is unfortunate, but true. Hopefully time will change people's perceptions. Also parents want room for their kids to play and be safe. I think that a well placed public park can easily take the place of a hundred private backyards, but it has to be done well. Unfortunately as easy as it sounds planning these kinds of things is hard and requires foresight.

The most tragic barrier though is the way that our tax system motivates municipalities to zone against density. In many (perhaps most) places schools are funded by local property taxes. The goal is to have good schools, and the formula is few students and a lot of tax revenue. Most places find that the best way to acheive this goal is to zone against density. It is tragic that because of a flawed tax code we are stuck living in spatial arrangements that stress the environment and people's lives. However this system is coming under increasing pressure to change. The property tax based school funding system leads to tremendous inequities in school district funding, which is reaching critical levels. There is a need for a system that allows more cross-subsidization of school districts, and when that happens districts will find that that funding depends on students rather than tax base. To have all the programs that help all kinds of students districts will find that economies of scale are required. This will motivate places to increase density and remove zoning restrictions in areas that are well-placed for dense development.

This is just one example of a little issue that has a profound effect on the way we live. Politicians rarely talk about this because there is a lot invested in the current system and change will adversely affect affluent people. But change will bring about a better society, so let's hope that in time there will be enough momentum to change a flawed policy.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

More on economic change...

Dan Drezner posted about outsourcing today, but there is not really a lot there...just a link to an op-ed that makes the argument that rather than seeing outsourcing what we are seeing today is really a shift in jobs due to technological change. The comments section is filled with some insightful comments, and a lot of idiotic going back and forth as well. But I have been thinking about the situation of our economy a bit this weekend and I have a few thoughts of my own to share.

It is looking like outsourcing is going to be an issue in the election. And a part of me thinks that is kind of a shame because it is an issue that is very easy to make simplistic statements on. Bush's economic advisor this week said that outsourcing makes the US economy stronger in the long-run. Unsurprisingly that did not go over well with Democrats or Republicans. But the fact is that companies are doing this for a reason and to interfere with this process is going to be limiting the choices of companies, which will make them less competitive.

I think the changing nature of our economy is a reality, but I wonder what is the logical conclusion of this trend? The economic theory says that these jobs are moving overseas because American workers are better suited to do other things. It is expensive to pay an American worker to do something that can be done just as well by someone else in another country for less. And the theory also says that Americans are paid a lot because they have a lot of options to do other things that can afford to pay them a lot. But I wonder if there are alternative theories that also could explain what we are seeing, and which don't lead to an eventual re-employment of workers in higher skill, higher productivity, higher paying jobs.

What if rather than American workers having too many options, they are just perceiving that they have a lot of options? What if American workers are expensive not because they are very productive, but because it is hard to find the workers that are productive? Employers feel they have to pay a lot to motivate the few good workers out there to apply for the job in the first place, and they just have to deal with a lot of inferior workers to find the good ones. This is bashing the American worker pretty hard, but I have heard anecdotes that support this. Employers do complain that they have a hard time finding workers who are reliable and work hard. Even when they are paying a good wage they see that workers are always looking for a better option. If this was really what is going on then I think we would see jobs being sent overseas until people become willing to work for less (which there will always be tremendous structural resistance to). If wages fall you know that there is something wrong with our economy, and I think we have seen real wages be at least stagnant for a long time. I am not saying that this is what is happening, just that it is a possible explanation.

Another possible explanation is that we are seeing a shift in demand preferences that is favoring things made in other places. I don't see a lot said about this, but I think that it could cause some very significant short and medium term disruptions to an economy. Let's say we have a situation that America is good at making Product X, Asia is good at Product Y and Europe is good at Product Z. All of these products have a global market, and an equilibrium is reached where all regions are trading with each other. Now what would happen if demand in Asia and the US for Product X declines and is replaced with demand for Product Y. It seems fairly straight-forward that employment making Product X (mostly in the US would fall), while a trade deficit would develop and Asia would have more jobs making Product Y.

It is my speculation that Americans are spending their extra dollar today on goods that are made better in other places, things like luxury cars and consumer electronics. Some portion of the value for these goods goes to US companies, but the jobs that make the goods are in other places. Now what if there was some encouragement that instead of spending an extra $10,000 on a home theater, or an extra $50,000 on a German automobile people should get a new deck or an addition to their house. This spending would go to American workers and I think would increase the overall well-being of the American economy. Changing people's preferences can be incredibly difficult, but I think there is an opportunity for an inspired leader to do just that.

Of course the traditional theory could be right, and we could just be laying the foundation for another shift in our economy. But even if this is true I think there are some legitimate questions to be raised about the equity in the distribution of income and wealth in that new economy. We could be heading towards a situation where a small portion of the workforce is incredibly productive doing jobs that manage and direct economic production. At the same time fewer and fewer people are needed for production jobs. The most efficient outcome would be to have all these hyper-productive people doing their jobs and leaving lower value activities (like cooking and cleaning) to others. And we are seeing this to some degree in the rise of the service economy. There is a reason why Yuppies have housecleaners rather than spending time to clean their own kitchen and bathroom.

But as we have low productivity jobs that are grounded in the US, and these jobs are employing a larger portion of the population, doesn't it make sense to do things like provide health care and raise wages for these workers. What are the consequences of this? Sure it makes the service they provide more expensive, but the hyper-productive workers can afford that, and everyone else will be better off.

On a personal level I am increasingly disturbed when I look at the people who are bagging my groceries, making my coffee, and serving my sandwich and think about their life. I can guess what their wage is, I know what I live on and what that gets me, and I think that getting by on what they earn is probably very difficult. Sure they can work multiple jobs and do fine, but what kind of life is that? It is easy to say that they could go to college and get a good job, but that is just not practical for everyone. I think I would rather see my grocery bill increase by 5% or my coffee cost another quarter to have the peace of mind that the people I have these passing interactions with are not struggling to make ends meet, but can afford to look forward to a vacation in the summer or a mortgage on a house.

I wonder how all this fits with the economic theory?

Thursday, February 12, 2004

A topic I know about...

For some reason Dan Drezner decided to post about Venture Capital and technology development in Western Mass. Now this is something that I really know about, since I wrote a thesis about it last year. I have not followed all his links, but I will tomorrow. In the meantime I had two comments that I think are good points even without all the context. (I know that just taking comments from other places is not the best way to blog, but I am busy these days with a new job, so please be understanding). Anyway here are my comments:

You should not conflate the activity going on around Village Ventures and the emerging tech they are talking about with the hidden tech that Amy Zuckerman is talking about. Companies that are in a position to get VC have to be organized im a way that the government is able to track them. This is not to say there are not freelancers out there, but they are different than the Village Ventures market.

There is data that tracks this kind of thing. It is the survey of non-employee enterprises. This tracks people who file taxes for work that is done in organizations that don't have employees. This covers everything from the person selling wooden toys made in the basement to a carpenter working as sub-contractor, to the computer programmer. And having looked at the data for Western Mass on these types of jobs you will find that there are much more people involved in activities related to arts than there are related to high tech. All told it is a very small portion of the workforce.

I will leave the value judgements on this activity to others.

In response to the point made by Jon H about proximity to research centers. Yes, that is a partial factor in Western Mass, but you should not confuse it with close. People in Western Mass are close enough to easily attend a meeting in NY or Boston, but they are not having daily meetings. The time from Western Mass to Boston or New York is similar to a 500 mile plane ride.

And while most space is farther from large research centers, most population is not. I would even guess that most "rural" population is close enough to an urban center to allow a single contractor to be in contact with people. In any event, most of these people who are "hidden tech" established contacts with business partners earlier in careers and then chose to move away. They really could live anywhere and maintain their business, but they are choosing to be in places where they are not too far from their past life.

And to the point that we should be seeing more server/internet technicians. I think we are. These jobs didn't exist 20 years ago. But of course there are less of them than the old jobs. Otherwise the investment in new technology would not be made. Companies are not spending money on IT because they would rather employ 100 programers than 100 clerks. The investment is made because they would rather employ 1 programmer, buy $500,000 of hardware, and employ 2 clerks than the 100 clerks.

A Centrist Exchange...

For some reason I have allowed myself to get sucked into another comments section that is also quickly becoming a moronic discussion. Well, I am trying hard, and in the name of time I thought I would just use what I wrote over at the Centerfield Weblog as a blog post for the morning.

The thread started with a link to this Slate article about electibility. The post just asked if the Democrats are getting the electability question wrong. There was a response from someone I thought at the time was a moderate saying that Kerry was not the least bit appealing and basically every Democrat is preferred to Kerry. This is what I think:

I think the electability question the Democrats are trying to answer IS which candidate will appeal more to centrist voters?

They are not idiots, they know that is what electability depends on. That is why Dean is judged not electable and Kerry is.

So are they making the right choice? Well, obviously you think they are wrong, but I disagree. The point is made above that being a Foreign Policy Hawk is a requirement. I think it is not a hawk Americans are looking for, but rather a person with credibility. Democrats see a lot more of that with Kerry than with Edwards (an experience issue, not a character issue between the two).

They also want someone who can say to Bush, "I have seen battle and I have been strong. I will do the same for our country in times of crisis." Kerry can say this, Edwards can't.

In the end most Democrats want to love Edwards, but they are nervous. They don't know him, he has not been around long, and they fear the potential mis-step. Kerry on the other hand is reliable. It is a bet that if this election will be lost by someone rather than won by someone. In a situation where Dems have a good chance to just sit back and watch Bush self-destruct a candidate who will not tie his own noose is a good thing.

The other thing I want to say about Kerry is that his war position was strong and steady. What he said on the campaign trail was what he said in the Senate when he cast his vote. He saw it as permission for the President to go to the UN and do this the right way. Bush ended up losing that when he made the decision to invade while inspectors were still on the ground. There was a lot of talk that inspectors were not the answer, but it looks like they were exactly the answer we needed. It was a surprise to everyone that they were allowed in, and Bush's war plans meant that he had to treat them as an inconvience rather than a solution. Kerry was under the mistaken illusion that taking Iraq to the brink of war would be enough...not that Bush and his adminstration would choose war when peace was still an alternative.

I am curious why centrists are drawn to Edwards when he clearly has a more protectionist stand on trade compared to Kerry?

Of course this generated a response from the commenter that I was mostly responding to. This time his true colors were a bit more apparent. This is what he had to say (I am only sharing this because it does set up a good point I will make later:

I'm mostly drawn to Edwards because I find Kerry's war rhetoric and his faux populism not the least bit convincing.

I categorically reject any Presidential candidate who is liable to use France as a moral beacon for when, why, and how American power will be used around the world.

I would vote for Howard Dean before I vote for John Kerry. And as a right wing death beast, that's saying something.

I thought I had a legit point to make in responding, so I did, perhaps foolishly getting myself sucked into another idiotic discussion with a right-wing blog troll that will lead to me becoming disenchanted with the state of humanity in the world. I responded:

Mark -

With all due respect, since you describe yourself as a "right wing death beast" I really don't care who you will vote for. That is not because I probably disagree with your views, but because I don't expect the Democratic nominee to get the vote of people like you anyway, so why bother?

Now, even though I suspect you are a Bush/Cheney operative cruising comments sections like this one to slander Kerry and dismiss comments abouts Bush I will still respond to your points.

1) Why are you more drawn to real populism than what you label "faux" populism. A real centrist, or even a right-winger would not be a big fan of populism. So the fact that Kerry is not pulling it off well should be more reassuring than Edwards' ability to really convince people that he does want to restrict trade.

2) France as a moral beacon? No. Show me one quote where Kerry said that. I am firmly convinced that any adult sitting in the Oval Office would do everything possible to defend America. Do you really think that if either Edwards or Kerry becomes President they will allow attacks on the US to happen. Bush is probably the first and last person to get a free pass from America on this one. Every future Presidency (including the remainder of Bush's Presidency) will be judged a failure if there is another 9/11.

Reflecting on this, I think that I am going to see more and more of this. The GOP is scared of John Kerry. They are going to have people posing as people from all over the political spectrum to raise doubts about Kerry's ability to be President. None of this will be founded it fact, it will all just be an effort to get people not to like Kerry. It is remarkable to me how little attention people who post about John Kerry actually know about what he believes and what his positions are. They choose things out of context and make a big deal of them. They select some parts of his record from a primary campaign that draws candidates to the left, some parts from almost 20 years of service in the Senate, a dash of views from 30 years ago, put them together and see an inconsistent picture of a person. Well, no crap. The only person with a consistent view over that amount of time is Bush who spent most of it drunk and stoned, leaving no public record and then had his entire career managed with a view towards the White House. He was never his own man in politics, thus leaving him the ability to be pure. In any event, I doubt this Mark character is actually being paid by the GOP (although he should request it), he is just someone dedicated to Bush who sees politics more about winning than leading our country in a productive direction.

Wednesday, February 11, 2004


This story would be funny if it was not so tragic.

Disturbing news...

In the midst of all the stories surrounding John Kerry's march to the nomination and Bush's various lies, half-truths, and dodges stories about what is going on in Iraq today have not been getting much notice...at least in the US. In the last two days over 100 people have died in two bombings. I hope that we or the Iraqis are able to get a handle on this soon, because failure in Iraq is still not an option.

BTW: There was another John Lee Anderson story in the New Yorker about post-war Iraq. For me the New Yorker is the best source of great information on stories that might otherwise escape attention. If reading the New Yorker weekly was assigned to the President I think we would have a different country.

Tuesday, February 10, 2004

As the election turns...

Well, it appears that Kerry has won two more states tonight, and the late news is that Clark is going to drop out of the race. Way back in September Clark became my man. I thought that he presented the best chance to beat Bush, and I still think that it would have been an interesting campaign. But in the end I am not particularly sad to see him go. From the start of his campaign it was a demostration in how difficult it is to run for President. I think that Clark is probably one of the most capable and driven people in the world (I am not exaggerating). But even the most capable cannot walk in and form an organization to effectively run for President in a matter of months.

I honestly believe that Wesley Clark can continue to be a great asset for our nation. I think that he can help the Democratic Party form a thoughtful and forceful foreign policy. He can help create a class of Democratic foreign policy leaders who are not afraid of the military brass and are equipped to fight the same battles in the bureaucracy that Rumsfeld is fight today (you can search some of my archives on the good of Rumsfeld). There is talk of Clark running for the Senate from Arkansas. I think any chance of picking up a seat for the Democrats would be a good thing, but I think that he could do even more in other roles. He would be a great member of the cabinet of a Democratic President, and would be a striking contrast to anyone in the Bush adminstration (with the exception of Colin Powell).

The last thing about Clark is that he was the first candidate I had ever given money to. And you know what, even though he was not much of a factor in the race I am glad that I did. I was afraid of a Dean candidacy. I think that he was going to look horribly un-Presidential and I am glad that happenend sooner rather than later. Clark running hard in New Hampshire forced Kerry to run hard in Iowa. His success connecting with people outside of his home was what catapulted his campaign to success. Iowa turned around this campaign in a way that would not have happenend if Dean or Gephardt won the state. And that was helped by the threat of Clark in NH. So I have no buyer's remorse from my donation and in the future when I see a need I will send my money in happily. So whoever is the nominee can expect another check from me in the summer to help get rid of the mess that Bush has made of our nation.

The other interesting thing I just heard tonight was a brief segment on Bush's strategy for running against Kerry. And frankly it was so weak I was shocked. Of course it could be a fake, but let's assume that they are not that saavy. The key element that struck me was to emphasize that during the Clinton Adminstration Kerry's positions were similar to Bush's. Is this for real? There are so many examples of how Bush is running our country into the ground that to compare anything Bush thought with what Kerry thought will be seen right through. What matters is what Bush did, and he has not done good. So Kerry is right, "Bring it on!"

The plot thickens...

If you are not paying attention to the rising storm of scandel around the Bush White House let me give you a quick run-down. It is sad that I feel the need to do this, but I don't see any of these stories being chased by the mainstream media. Thus I see this as playing my part to keep the stories alive. There are two competing scandels. The first is the Plame investigation and the second is the National Guard story.

Kevin Drum at the Calpundit has been keeping the National Guard story going. You can read all the gory details over there, but the top lines right now are that Bush is backtracking on his promise to release all his records as he promised on Meet the Press and that Bush might have been in some kind of disciplinary trouble during his term in the National Guard. The catch with all this is that if Bush could just straight-up answer the questions about his time in the National Guard all of this would go away. I think that either he is really hiding something or he is setting an elaborate trap to distract the press and get them to chase this non-story for a couple of months.

The Plame story has always been reported best by Josh Marshall at the Talking Points Memo. He wrote a series of pieces last year about where the actual forged Niger/Iraq/Uranium document came from in the first place. Now he is resurrecting that angle. Apparently there is an FBI investigation into that actual story and it is starting to get some momentum. Also, it was reported last week that investigators into the leak are closing in on the VP's office as the source of the leak. Yesterday it was reported that the President's spokesman, Scott McClellan testified to the Justice Department and that interviews by the investigators with the Bush Administration officials have been "tense and sometimes combative." Now this does not sound like an Administration that has nothing to hide, or one that is fully cooperating with investigators as Bush says.

My hope is that both of these stories are able to play themselves out before the election. This is not just a partisan view, but it really looks like something stinks in this adminstration. If we did not have such a loyal Congress I really think the Plame story could be heading towards impeachment territory. But that is not going to happen. Instead, if this just festers and never gets the light of day disinfectant it needs we are going to be stuck with an administration that is not trusted at home or abroad. We are going to be on the defensive with every nation in the world because they will know they are dealing with a team that will lie to its own people to drive them towards a war that they would not want if the real facts were on the table. This is a sad and pathetic state of affairs. It is made worse by the continued reinforcement in the media that talking tough is a better way to fight terrorism than acting with integrity at home and abroad.

Let's be perfectly clear here...

Amid all the allegations swirling around the President these days the story about Al Qaeda in Iraq might seem to provide some vindication. After all, a key part of Iraq being a threat was that there were links with terrorists who were threatening us. And those terrorists must have been a part of Al Qaeda right? Well, sorry Bush, there is a story here, but it is not the story that you are looking for.

The links between Iraq and Al Qaeda were formed in response to the US threat. And they did not become real until after the US invasion. This is a case of our action inspiring more opposition to the US rather than less. As long as headlines read things like, "Seized letter shows Al Qaeda operations in Iraq" I expect this story to be played up by the Bushies.

The thing is that this is significant, just not in the way that Bush is probably hoping. It matters who we are fighting in Iraq because it goes a long way to determining how likely we are to succeed. It is unfortunate that we have to fight not just rogue elements of Iraqi society but outside terrorists as well. While I don't subscribe to the flypaper theory (i.e. that it is great we are fighting Al Qaeda in Iraq because it means they are not operating elsewhere) I think that it bodes well for Iraq that some portion of the violence is not internal.

Monday, February 09, 2004

My rant of the day...

I wanted to make a quick post on Drezner's message board about knee-jerk support of Bush because of the War on Terrorism. Somehow this is what I ended up with:

Someone wrote:
"Bush is also pro-entitlement program reform, favored more liberalization of trade with Latin America and Africa, and favors market-oriented reforms in health care and education which are essential to any long-term reduction or transformation away from the current Nanny State model"

You know what strikes me about these positions? If Bush pushed any of these issues he would lose. These are not majority views in the country right now, and it is sad that we are stuck with minority views on Domestic policy because Bush has conned so many people into thinking that he is the only one who would fight terrorists (and Iraq too). And you know what is worse? That all those believing Bush are wrong.

You put anyone is the Oval Office, make them responsible for our nation's defense and that person is going to fight threats. Do you people honestly think that any of the remaining candidates would stand-by while America got attacked and say, "sorry...let's hope that does not happen again"? For crying out loud, by the end of Clinton's term he was doing far more to try to make Americans safe in the long-term than Bush did for the first 9 months of his term. The biggest beef with America in the Arab world is our support of Israel. Clinton was busting his butt to solve that problem. When Bush showed up he total disengaged from the region. Some leadership. Threats were building, Bush was spending a month on a ranch in Texas. He could have been in another desert land trying to secure a deal that would have brought peace to the region (I would not blame him for failure, but I do blame him for not trying.)

So you should all just relax, and know that any leader of our country will fight to protect it.


I am not sure if this post by the Calpundit is going to be a world of political hurt for the White House or end up being perfectly innocent. In any event it still seems like Bush is going to have to account for his time in the Texas National Guard a bit more clearly than, "I got an honorable discharge so clearly I served honorably."

It will be interesting to see if big media starts running with this story anytime soon.

Also, there is a pretty harsh way of reading Bush's entire service in the National Guard provided in the Daily Kos. It would be hard to have a candidate sell this, but it would be a good talking point for some decorated Vet in the Democratic party...I am looking at you Wes Clark.

Sunday, February 08, 2004

More on the Meet the Press...

I have a question about of the answers that Bush gave in the course of his interview. The relevant passage is:

Russert: But your base conservatives and listen to Rush Limbaugh, the Heritage Foundation, CATO Institute, they're all saying you are the biggest spender in American history.

President Bush: Well, they're wrong.

Russert: Mr. President

President Bush: If you look at the appropriations bills that were passed under my watch, in the last year of President Clinton, discretionary spending was up 15 percent, and ours have steadily declined.

My question, as posted on Dan Drezner's message board, where I think I have a chance of getting an answer from some CATO, Rush, and Heritage fans is this:

I am far from a fan of Bush, but I thought he did a decent job. Of course I am starting with a belief that he has some very tough questions to answer, and just to survive an interview like that is an acheivement.

Of course I would have liked to hear a few more tough follow-up questions and challenges to the President, but he is the President, it is the Oval Office, and I don't think it is really appropriate to ask him if he is a liar in that setting.

One question I do have, and I think most of the readership here is in a better position to answer this then me, is how will the CATO Institute, the Heritage Foundation, and Rush Limbaugh respond to being called "wrong" by the President. I may not agree with these institutions, but I assume that most of them to believe in what they say. Are they going to just sit down when the President says that all their hard work and beliefs are wrong. This is part of his base.

What do people think will be the reaction to these comments? How do you think the Bush camp will try to paper this over during the inevitable phone calls to the White House tomorrow morning? Most critics seem to be focusing on Iraq, terrorism, and the National Guard, but on those isses the political battle lines are drawn. What will the reaction be to Bush biting at his base?

I also read at the Angry Bear that in this situation it is actually Bush who is wrong. And while I was getting the link I found that the Calpundit is also following up on this one as well.
The point made there is that Bush can be technically correct in what he said...although I don't think CATO and Heritage will be thrilled about Bush being technically corrent and dismissing them. As I reflect more I don't think that Rush will raise a stink.


I have been waiting to see the Meet the Press interview with President Bush all week. I said earlier this week:"What I expect will happen is that Bush will get enough tough questions to satisfy, will struggle enough that I will see him as weak, and yet most people will judge him to have passed a challenging test." After seeing the interview I think that I was close. Russert did follow-up and ask some tough questions. However there were a few moments where I wish that Russert was a bit more aggressive in following up. When Bush was talking about the Budget he changed the subject to the war on terrorism, supporting the troops, and making sure the world is safer for future generations. I really wanted the follow-up question to ask why, if these things are so important, were they not included in the budget?

The entire first half-hour of the interview, that ran without a break, was focused on Iraq and the war on terrorism. I thought that Bush did not answer some of the questions directly, but what he did say reflected more ambiguity on the situation around the world than is usually said. I was very disappointed that there was no follow-up regarding the actual presence of weapons inspectors in Iraq on the eve of our invasion. This seems to be the forgotten point in the run-up to the war. Bush can certainly make the point that he will not rely on the good will of a madman, but the presence of inspectors is not just relying on goodwill. I think that if we gave the inspectors a chance to announce to the world that there do not appear to be any WMD in Iraq, that it would lead to a radically different political situation in Iraq.

There were times when Bush seemed to do a very good job. There was a question asked about if it was worth it to sacrafice American lives in Iraq, and Bush answered with the right amount of emotion and thought. I think that Bush's point about National Guard service not being something to mock is a good line of defense for him. It does not really address the concerns that he was not present when he should have been, and I think that for the son of a Congressman to get an honorable discharge does not neccesarily mean that he deserved an honorable discharge. In the end though I think that these kinds of attacks will come off poorly. The Democrats should raise the issue, leave it out there for a while, but not get too aggressive chasing the story.

Another thought I had in the course of the interview is that the key domestic policy of Bush in the State of the Union, namely tax cuts, is not going to be pushed that hard this year. I think there is a feeling in the country that the deficit is a concern, that tax cuts don't make sense, and that the link between tax cuts and economic growth is somewhat tenuous.

The last thing I wanted to mention on the interview is that while I think Bush did a serviceable job, the fact is that most people will not have watched the interview. They will hear about clips of the interview, and I think that all those clips do is keep the focus on issues that are uncomfortable for Bush. The story is going to be how he answers questions about the National Guard, about Iraq, about the war on terrorism, and about the economy. The story will not be the relatively good answers he gave that spoke about being a leader and having a vision for the country. This probably should have been predicted, and is probably why this interview was done at the request of Bush and not his advisors. They probably knew it was not the best idea in the world, but were not going to fight the President on it. As Jeff Greenfield just said in the end this will not be the seminal moment of the campaign.

There is a lot of time between now and November. Right now momentum is on Kerry's side, but that will not be the case forever. I still think that Bush is a formidable candidate. He is a crappy President and is going a lousy job running America, but, as frustrating as this is, he is still going to be difficult to beat in November.

Saturday, February 07, 2004

Some sport...

I have not been paying a lot of attention to the Maurice Clarett story because I thought it was about college sports, and I could not care less about college sports (sorry Pedro). But the ruling actually might have some serious implications on the structure of sport in America (for more thoughts on this subject you can read one of my earlier posts).

Football has been in the very comfortable position of being able to use colleges as their development system. There has been no alternative for the young athlete than to play college ball, regardless of how raw a deal they get, and the programs are very well-funded thanks to the hordes of people that pack stadiums every Saturday and the massive money TV pays to televise the big games. This is all very excellent for the NFL. But what has changed is that now the players have an alternative. NFL teams are going to see their job of making personnel choices get a lot more difficult. NFL teams can tell which players have potential after their sophmore year, but they don't have to commit for another few years. Now they might have to. They are either going to have to dedicate roster space to players that are not ready to play or let a prospect slip through and deal with inferior talent in later years.

For Basketball the system can work because the teams are small, there is extra roster space available, and there is more certainty about who will be a contributing player. Football lacks these advantages. If the NFL wants to get serious about addressing this problem there are a few things they can do. The one that I hope happens is that they ask (force) the NCAA to change some of their ridiculous rules. Either pay players so they are not as dissatisfied being in college or allow agents to pay players so they become interested in player's development. Another option for the NFL is open up their development league, NFL Europe, to younger players. I am not sure about all the regulations currently in place for the world league, but I am sure that some changes would be required if this was viewed as a real route for NFL talent. They would probably have to create affliations with NFL teams to make sure that World League coaches are taking care of the NFL teams' talent.

This entire thing could lead to some very interesting changes, and I hope it does. The more it does to change the awful situation of college football the better it will be.

Well, things seem to have quieted down in Kabul over the Eid holiday. No more suicide bombers, although two rockets did land on Television Hill a couple of nights ago (it appears that they were aimed in the general direction of my house -- Osama must have realized that I'm closing in on him...) The International community -- or at least my segment of it -- is starting to get a little anxious about security, though. I welcome the upcoming spring offensive recently announced by the US, but I'd really prefer that the resources instead be used to extend ISAF to the south and eastern parts of the country. I think the battle for public opinion is ultimately more important than killing every last suspected Talib, and it's easier to make friends while patrolling than it is when you're conducting an assault.

Much has been made recently about how Iraq and Afghanistan are going to play major roles in the US presidential election next fall. And that's probably true. But I rather suspect that success, as defined by the American voting public, is only somewhat related to what would constitute actual improvement in the lives of Iraqis and Afghans. If Osama is caught, US force levels in Iraq are scaled back dramatically and elections are held in both countries by the end of next summer, I imagine that the US media and public will believe that everything is fine. But let's consider each of those:

  • Capturing or killing Bin Laden would be a tremendous victory for the US, but it wouldn't necessarily do much to improve the security situation in Afghanistan. It's not clear that he has any real contact with the marauding Talibs, and most people here suspect that the majority of the violence is being perpetrated by unaffiliated drug dealers and warlords anyhow. (In other words, Bin Laden's not the only guy who stands to gain from a destabilized Afghan government. Not even close.)
  • US troop level reductions in Iraq. Well, it sure seems like the troops are going to be brought home regardless of whether the security situation improves in Iraq. Given the recent assassination attempt on Sistani, I'm not at all convinced that a power vacuum is what Iraqis need right now.
  • Elections. I don't know nearly as much about Iraq, but it is not at all clear that prompt elections are in Afghanistan's best interest. Due to security problems, voter registration is only happening in the 8 largest cities in the country. I can't imagine that this will change any time soon, and if it doesn't, well, you've got a whole bunch of disenfranchised Afghans. Elections also threaten to bring papered-over rifts back to the fore (already I'm seeing articles in the foreign press about how this minister is going to resign if another one isn't sacked -- there's no truth to the rumor, but someone's passing it along, and probably not for the best reasons).

Now, having said that, USAID is doing everything in its power to re-elect Bush (which is ironic, since Bush seems to want to place all of AID's programs under the control of the Department of Defense). In Afghanistan, they are "accelerating" implementation of their projects -- basically throwing money around so they can have as many things built as possible by June. That's their business, but I have a hard time seeing how bringing in outside contractors is going to help develop native industrial capacity.

I have a friend who works for one of the major USAID contractors. They've been struggling to accomplish their goals (I hear this is a problem for most AID projects, incidentally), and AID recently ordered them to undergo a major reorganization. Good, you're probably thinking, they'll bring in a lot of experts to help get something done, right? Um, sort of. Turns out USAID has asked them to bring in a lot of new staff... to work on the Public Relations side of the business. It doesn't seem to matter what happens in Afghanistan as long as Americans think it's going well.

Whatever. It's not surprising that foreign aid gets caught up in domestic politics. Let's just hope that whoever wins the election doesn't forget about Afghanistan the second he's inaugurated. (And let's hope that that person is not Bush or Kerry. Just had to say it.)

Friday, February 06, 2004

Response to Drezner...

Dan Drezner posted about an EU proposal to impose value driven tariffs. Rather than respond in his increasingly hostile comments section I thought I would go to the source to find out if my take makes any sense. You can be the judge as well:

Anyway, I have two issues with your characterization of the types of tariffs proposed by the EU. The first is that while you acknowledge that there are competing forces at work here (the liberal vs. democratic forces) you don't pay enough attention to the fact that the reasons the tariffs could be imposed are actually barriers to democracy. The extreme example that I am thinking of here is slavery. If another nation was selling goods to Europe that were produced by slaves how would limiting that trade be a problem. Now I know this is an extreme example, but Europeans today are placing a lot more value on the conditions under which goods are produced. Imposing a tariff to say that we will not buy goods from nations that do not respect the right of workers to organize is not an automatic wrong. It is a value judgment. It is not saying we will not trade with a given country, just that we will not trade with a given country under certain conditions. There are a lot of issues with this reducing the ability of nations to develop at all, but at some point shouldn't prosperous nations start to impose rules on trade that will make sure nations develop into democracies instead of remaining capitalist dictatorships or plutocracies?

My other issue is that I think you do not give enough credit to the need for Europe itself to experience convergence. The original EU members are taking a huge chance by integrating with a number of nations that are far less prosperous. If the disparity in wealth continues for a long time it will cause enormous social strain on both ends of the continent. A side benefit of this proposal is that it would direct more production to eastern Europe. Sure that is at the expense of the rest of the world, but for Europe intra-continental convergence is a higher priority than global convergence. The EU is choosing to help specific areas quickly rather than the entire world slowly. This is definitely in their self-interest, but it is not an indefensible decision. I see this as very different than tariffs put in place to protect an economy that has been integrated for centuries (like the US). It is more the equivalent of initiatives like NAFTA or the FTAA. They are projects to channel the benefits of trade with a wealthy place to strategically important areas.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

Not too hard...

I did a quick search, and the one link that I wanted in the post below was easy to find. Here is my post below pointing to a story on Bush's shortcomings in his National Guard Service. I think the source deserves some credit for writing this tale before anyone cared about the story, but unfortunately the link that I provided in the original post is no longer operational. Well, Skippy deserves some credit for bringing this to light early.

A world of political hurt...

Pain is not something I take pleasure in seeing. But political discomfort for Bush is something that is making me happy. Just a quick run-down of the things that are breaking on his sorry hide right now (no links because there is not time and no one clicks on them anyway):

1. His National Guard service. Why this is a story now is beyond me. I knew that he was not a loyal servant of Uncle Sam months ago, in fact I might have even put up the story on this blog (I should go back and find that link sometime). I just figured that it was in the cateory of not a big deal. I thought it was kind of strange, but I guess I took it as a sign that we were ready to accept that lots of people avoided serving in a war that was being fought for the wrong reasons. I guess it does sound a bit worse when that same person is now fighting a war for the wrong reasons. Which brings me to the next one...

2. Tenet's "Iraq not an immient threat" - I am not sure if Tenet thinks that he is taking heat for the President or not, as I have not read a lot of opinion on his speech. But I know that this is far from the light at the end of the tunnel for Bush. First thing is that it means that Bush's advisors overstated the case. Tenet, as head of the CIA says there was no imminent threat. Bush never said that they were, but lots of his people made statements to that effect. I recall that Ari Fleisher (who I almost punched the other night, but resigned myself to making snied comments to my friends while he was across the bar) answered a question about Iraq being an imminent threat in the affirmative. I have seen lots of blog posts running down all the times that people associated with making the case for invading Iraq led Americans to similar conclusions. The second thing here is that what it is saying is that we invaded a country to pre-empt their threat when they were not a threat. Most Americans are uncomfortable with that. Bush can say all he wants that he thinks Iraq is better off, but people know that is not what he was saying a year ago as justification for this war. And while we are on the subject of the long string of lies leading up to war...

3. The Plame outing. - It looks like people are starting to get into some real hot-water over this one. The Vice-President's office has been implicated they are going to lean to find out how high this goes, and people in power are going to be in trouble. Cheney is a sketchy character and this is not going to help his image one bit. And speaking of Cheney...

4. The Cheney-Scalia duckhunt - This story continues to get worse. It was probably innocent enough, but if you are a Supreme Court justice you just don't take a paid vacation trip on an oil-tycoon's land in a plane provided by the Vice-President when you are about to hear a case related to that Vice-President's energy task force. It is not illegal, but it smells bad enough that other members of the court are probably going to ask Scalia to recuse himself. Which will then make it look like Cheney was trying to influence the decision and got caught.

5. Iraq and Afganistan are coming apart at the seams.

6. Bush is behind in polls to John Kerry.

7. His budget is a complete joke and everyone knows it

8. The economy continues to not generate jobs.

With all this can it be any surprise that Bush is going on Meet the Press this Sunday? Well, yes, actually it is a huge surprise. This can't be in the administrations playbook for how to win an election. I am very curious to see how this interview goes. Bush has some very difficult questions to answer. In the past he has been able to rely on his image to have interviewers go soft and not push him. Will Russert get tough, and push the President of the US. Will he do his usual tough interview, bringing back statements from the past and finding what Bush has to say today? If this interview does get tough and Bush passes the test then I will be in awe of him. If Russert goes soft and asks softball questions on irrelevant issues like Gay Marriage then I will just be disappointed in Russert. There is plenty of meat to feast on, lets hope that Russert doesn't get fat and lazy.

What I expect will happen is that Bush will get enough tough questions to satisfy, will struggle enough that I will see him as weak, and yet most people will judge him to have passed a challenging test. Can we finally raise the bar with which we judge our leaders?

Tuesday, February 03, 2004

Absurdness of the day...

In case you were paying attention to football for the last three days and forgot to follow the party line on the status of WMD in Iraq let me provide a brief summary. Our trusted leader Bush and his loyal following have changed their tune. No longer is it the case that Iraq had WMD or even for that matter "weapons of mass destruction related program activities." In fact it is not even the case that the CIA was over cautious and missing threats like they missed the collapse of the Soviet Union or the 9/11 attacks. The story now is that it is all the CIA's fault. Apparently the CIA was giving bad information to the President who then took action on that bad information only to find out later that the CIA was really, really wrong. The special intelligence office set up in the Defense Department played no role in our decision to go to war or in presenting the intelligence that was used to justify the decision to go to war.

So we are going to investigate. This investigation is going to focus not on the decision to go to war, but just on the CIA. And it is not going to be limited to Iraq, but we are going to investigate intelligence on Libya, Iran, and North Korea. That should confuse matters enough. And this committee doing the investigation is going to be independent and non-partisan...except that no Democrat has been asked to provide input on committee membership, so really we are just going to say that it is independent and non-partisan while taking no action to actually make it so.

But my favorite part is that there is such a long record of everything that went on leading up to the war that all of this is nothing but absurd. It is a show, and a bad one at that. It is a B-movie, not even a good movie with good special effects. Josh Marshall has a post that demonstrates just how absurd this whole thing is. My guess is that Laurie won't be scheduling many interviews to promote this book.

This is a national disgrace, but a part of me is watching with interest what are the implications of picking a fight with the CIA. This is not an organization that is going to sit tight while holding a hot potato. I think the CIA is filled with a bunch of professionals who do their best to stay above politics. There were some noises made earlier about how the administration was misusing intelligence and disregarding the CIA. But now when the blame is coming back to the CIA I expect that things are going to get nasty. It will be interesting to see what a CIA with the knives out looks like. I am betting it will not be pretty for Bush and his team. I expect a story about this by Seymour Hersh in the New Yorker any week now. (In fact it would be very interesting to go back and read all of the New Yorker pieces on Iraq going back to the Clinton era and see what people's views were on the situation...maybe someone has the time to do that?)

Getting late...

I am a bit late putting up a link to this, but since I first took a look at it last night I have been meaning to write something about Krugman's piece today. Unlike most of his columns which are simply focused on skewering Bush, this one is well thought out and deals with everything quite fairly. The topic is the budget and the bottom line is that we have a lot of problems with the budget. It is quite easy to say that the issue is just Bush's tax cuts, but Krugman makes it clear that it goes beyond that.

The numbers in fact are so shocking that I almost don't know what the way out is. The number that struck me most was the decrease in percent of GDP going to tax revenue from almost 21% to under 16%. This is amazing. Thinking about this for a second. We have left 5% more GDP in the hands of consumers and businesses. At the same time we have increased government spending at a quite steady clip. It boggles the mind that we are not in a situation where the economy is roaring out of control. In reality it is quite disturbing. I wonder what is going to happen when we are forced to stop spending money that we do not have. This is clearly not sustainable. We cannot decrease the percent of GDP going to taxes by 25% every three years. I am afraid for the debt that is rapidly being built up to be handed off to my generation.

There is a lot more interesting posts on the budget that are floating around the blogworld today. I found the exchange between Brad DeLong and a writer at the Washington Post quite interesting. Also fitting into the interesting category are some of the numbers that the Calpundit draws our attention to. The bottom line from him is that it is pretty good odds that the budget over-estimates what revenues will be, and also ignores the cost of operations in Afganistan and Iraq...which is strange since we are already there and it is clearly a priority for Bush to stay.

Monday, February 02, 2004

The truth is out...

For a long time I have been writing about what is going to happen when the media, the Bush administration, and the public finally come to the realization that we blew it with respect to our view of WMD in Iraq (see this post from June 1 for an example). Well, that day is starting to come. I won't run down a list of links to all the variouus angles on this story. It is not hard to figure out that this is a very uncomfortable time for the Bush people. They thought they could ignore it and stonewall yet another investigation. But that strategy fell apart after a just a few days. Now they are under the belief that they can put together their own commission for the investigation. This has a better hope, but they have to find people with integrity who are willing to sacrafice it all to make this committee what they want. Good luck finding people like that.

However, I am sure they are sleeping just a little bit easier safe in their belief that it will be possible to pin this entire thing on the CIA. The problem is that there are quotes and stories a mile long that detail how the administration were mis-using intelligence rather than it just being a problem of flawed intelligence (this is detailed in the Talking Points Memo, by the Calpundit, by Matthew Yglesias, and I am sure by countless others).

The sub-context to this entire story is how to maximize or minimize the political damage. As someone who hates just about everything that Bush has done to this country I want to see the damage maximized. However, this is also a subject that is just too serious to let politics guide everything. I want to see a full investigation, not one limited to the CIA, but the other White House stipulation is that the investigation not be completed before the November elections. I think that is fine. If it means that we are any more likely to see the truth come out in the end and find a way to make it less likely that something like this will happen again. It is also not like this is going to be giving Bush a free pass. The questions will be there throughout the election. This will be an issue that will make a lot of people ask questions about the integrity of the people running our nation. It might seem like putting it off until after the election is sweeping it under the rug, but that is an elephant under the rug, and no matter how many sofas and coffee tables you try to cover it with, it is going to be pretty clear there is an elephant under the rug. Of course some people will refuse to see the elephant. But those people would refuse to see the elephant without the rug, and when the elephant comes to run them over they will probably blame the donkey.

OK, enough with the confusing metaphor. What I am trying to say is that it is far more important that this gets sorted out correctly than that Bush is help to maximum account as quickly as possible.

As a sidenote, could anyone imagine any circumstance where anything the Bush administration could do would lead to an impeachment trial run by a Republican Congress? I think short of Bush himself pulling the trigger to kill rich American citizens in the streets of Houston would this Administration ever be held to account by this congress.