Yankee Blog

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

A merely excellent blog post...

Matthew Yglesias at TAPPED also hits home with some great insights about why David Brooks is not just wrong, but is perpetuating some pretty dangerous generalizations that the media tends to make about America and what really divides us. I am sure Paul Krugman would agree.

Perhaps the greatest blog post ever...

Click over to this post at the Decembrist as soon as possible to read the best blog post ever. It is insightful and hopeful, but most of all brilliant. My comment, which was rejected because the server is down is:

It would be a great day for America if the opinions of some southern elitists preying on the racial biases of a (deliberately) poorly educated population were not holding so much power.

Hopefully the good people of New Hampshire, Colorado, Arizona, Maine, and Ohio will realize this sooner rather than later. And in the process perhaps they will realize the power they could exert in American politics...and not be so malignant about it.

A study in contrasts...

There is a short news item today that the first President Bush got "emotional" defending his son against the "partisan" attacks from "elites and intellectuals on the campaign trail" regarding what we have accomplished in Iraq. Now I understand that this is probably more personal than political (although nothing would surprise me), but perhaps George the First should take a look at this story, and ask himself if the political attacks really matter compared to the flesh and blood attacks that our soldiers are feeling. These young solidiers died. They died trying to make a nation more free. But they also died because our President lied to us about why we were fighting a war. He lied to us about the goals of this war, and he lied to us about what we would acheive in this war. My heart goes out to the Soldiers fighting and the families here in the US. And I don't want them to ever to have to suffer without them knowing the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about what it is all about.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Refuting the lie...

One of the most common things I read on comment section of other blogs is this belief that John Kerry would be softer against terrorism than Bush. This just pisses me off because it is about myths and not facts. Bush talks tough, so he must be tougher. Well, really talking tough is actually making us weaker, and his actual policies have some fundamental flaws. Towards that end I responded on the Drezner board this morning:

"It is not clear that John Kerry even thinks we are at war."

Well, I would want to ask who you think we are at war against and why we are at war in each case? I think that the rhetoric of "war on terror" clouds judgement of a number of distinct situations each with a different combination of solutions. The Bush Adminstration seems to want to call everything a war and then try to rise above any questioning of how they wage that "war."

And with regard to John Kerry, I would encourage everyone to actually read what he says about the war on terror. You can read his speech from just over a month ago.
This is the key quote: "I do not fault George Bush for doing too much in the War on Terror; I believe he?s done too little."

And then the speech goes on to detail many specific policies he would pursue. Please, read that speech, and then explain why you think John Kerry does not believe we are at war. You can just follow the party line of the President's attacks, or you can look at what Kerry says and try to find a position of your own.

Monday, March 29, 2004

I have a dream...

After watching the Richard Clarke interview on Meet the Press and reading this on the Centerfield blog, I felt moved to put this comment togeher. It is much less a comment than a post, and so here it is:

There is a very real lack of responsibility. And the bigger problem is that the failure to acknowledge mistakes is internal and external. But right now there is no way out for the Bush Administration. They have no choice but to deny responsibility as vigourously as possible.

And the more I learn about what went on between January of 2001 and September of 2001, and between October of 2002 and today the more I think they are making mistakes above and beyond that which we should overlook.

Before Richard Clarke came forward, and so elequoently stated his case (particularly on Meet the Press) I assumed that Bush was just doing what Clinton did. I am dismayed to learn that is not the case. Clinton was personally involved in the fight against terrorism. This might just be a function of his style rather than it being a higher priority, but the fact is that Clarke believes his style got more results.

It is deeply dismaying to see the way the GOP is trying to fight back against Clarke. Rather than talk about what the President and the Adminstration did right and what they did wrong they are simply attacking the messenger. That is not going to accomplish anything productive for our safety.

There will always be people who are more inclined to follow strong rhetoric over smart policy, but here we are seeing a failure of monumental proportions. The rhetoric is running the show, and the USA is losing.

I don't know what exactly drove our desire to "do" Iraq. I know that they were dangerous, that it was a long-term priority of the US government, but it is still a mystery to me why we sacraficed on the fight against the enemy that attacked us and turned on an enemy that was trying to lay (relatively) low.

My current guess is that it started with the rhetoric. Bush said we were going to "win". He said we were fighting an axis of evil. Our battle in Afganistan was not producing results that played well on the evening news. So the rhetoric turned to Iraq. Without it being a plan, we had policy makers guessing where the President wanted to go, and due to systematic errors (not personal lies) we ended up with a case for war against Iraq as well as popular support for that war.

This entire period of our history bothers me deeply. This is not like my perception of how the US government is supposed to work, and reminds me more of facism and dystopian novels I read in 10th grade than democracy. But we are still a democracy, and I hope and pray that in the end America can demonstrate that the system works.

And with any luck we will emerge from this period with two parties that are deserving our respect and capable of leading our great nation.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

More lies...

One of the major thrusts of the intial effort to discredit Richard Clarke by the White House was to deny that specific conversations ever took place. Less than a week later the White House is changing their story. I guess that according to this White House it is OK to do that, but not OK for Richard Clarke to change his story months or years later. Can someone explain to me how I am supposed to think that our nation is not being taken over by criminals?

A reader question...

A while ago I got a question from a friend asking:

Farm subsidies make american farmers (corporate or whatever) competetive in the international marketplace, right? The problem is that they cripple the competetiveness of other countries and really only benefit a small number of americans. Is it fair to view unemployment and universal health care as labor subsidies? It's hard to imagine them hurting other countries and the benefits are obviously spread over a much wider (and needier) portion of the population. Throw in continuing education while you're at it.

I basically did not answer it because I wasn't sure what the answer is. My guess would be that any subsidy that applies to a group leads to favoritism of that group over those excluded. So, ultimately, unemployment insurance, health care, or education all favor those who are eligible over those who are not. For unemployment insurance the person who has coverage is more likely to take a job that is more tenuous than the person who does not have insurance. For health care, companies in nations with health care coverage have less costs on their books than the companies that have to pay for health care (this is increasingly becoming a concern for American companies). For education youth in America are favored over youths in the Middle East because of their access to better education.

But there are some very real limits to these statements. If something applies to all people in the nation then they are paying for that service as well as benefiting from it. The sums should cancel out. So in the case of health care, sure a company in France has less costs on their books because they are not paying health care, but they have to pay more taxes so in the end they have the same amount to invest. Unemployment insurance (in theory) should be something that an individual could purchase at the same cost as what government supplies it for with tax revenue. But these things are not so clean because the tax burden is distributed unevenly across the population.

It is also complicated by the fact that the buying model for each of these services can affect the total cost. The assumption that health care costs the same regardless of the structure of the market is false. Thus nations with universal health care have lower health care costs because they have a monopoly purchasing model. This does reduce competition, probably reduces the quality of the best care, but does have the benefit of saving money for society as a whole. The net impact of what is essentially a subsidy depends on your values and the structure of the systems being compared.

Education has even more complications. There are many externalities from education, justifying a nation-wide subsidy. In the case of the US it is easier for all companies to find workers because everyone is required to get a certain level of education. The fact that we have a system to provide that is a significant subsidy to US companies that some hypothetical nation without universal education would lack. However, the benefit of this subsidy is so widely distributed across the US population that is hard to imagine someone making an argument that we should not fund education because it is unfair to those countries that do not. Ultimately the answer in this case is that all nations should have the subsidy.

I would guess that the distribution of benefits is where the farm subsidies become problematic. Farm subsidies make food cheaper to buy. The food is not cheaper overall, but with government paying part of the cost of production to certain producers the food in the grocery store ends up cheaper. Of course it is cheaper only from the subsidized producers (i.e. those in the US) hence the unfairness to food producers from the developing world. But there are other ways to make food cheaper rather than subsidies to food producers. The government could just directly subsidize purchases of food. The unfairness is that the subsidies go to the US producers over international producers. We see this as a problem because the US producers are already wealthy, while the international producers are poor.

So I guess the answer I would come up with is that all those things are essentially subsidies, but the real problem with the farm subsidies is with the distribution of benefit. I would welcome any comments on this, or additional thougths because I really have no idea what I am talking about.

Need more proof...

If you are reading this blog, then you probably are pretty convinced that Bush and Team pretty much sold our Iraq war on faulty intelligence. But if you are still on the fence check out the LA Times quotes included in this Kevin Drum Post. (I would like to article, but you always have to register for the LA Times). It really is remarkable just how bad the selling of this war was managed. Someday people will pay for their mistakes, hopefully before November, but right now it is only the US soldier that is paying.

Fun with right-wing freaks...

After getting sick of the idiotic comments on Drezner's blog (this time about Kerry's tax plan) I put up the following satire of the GOP party line on these things. It was probably more amusing to write than to read, but anyway:

I think after reading the comments on this blog for a while I finally have it figured out. Clearly the Kerry plan is flawed. After all, Kerry is a Democrat and hence he is not trustworthy. Thus if it is a good plan, he actually means the opposite. The only indicator Kerry might be telling the truth about his plan is if it will obviously harm the US.

I also learned that all the good that happen during Democratic presidential happen despite of the government while all the good things that happen during GOP administrations are due to good policy. Of course the opposite is true as well, bad things during Democratic administrations are the fault of government, bad things during GOP administrations are bad luck. The little known corollary to this rule is that bad things that happen at the start of a GOP presidency are the fault of the preceding Democrat, not bad luck as you might assume. It is a subtle point, but a very important one to know if you want to be fluent in GOP-gibberish. Thank you to all who have allowed me to clarify these rules, they will undoubtedly be valuable in all future policy analysis and examinations of history.

The real story continues...

I missed this yesterday, but found today an opinion piece from the NYT that makes the same point I discussed in the last post. Namely we have an adminstration that doesn't understand how everything changed on 9/11.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Surprise, Surprise, Surprise...

Josh Marshall digs into the archives to find a foreign policy strategy piece written by Condoleeza Rice at the outset of the 2000 campaign. According to Rice's thinking the main threats to the US are state actors. The threat from non-state terrorists is not really a priority in her view of foreign policy. We learned on 9/11 that this view is wrong. But at the time there were a lot of reasons to not know that. However, rather than admit that 9/11 changed everything Rice is stuck with the same kind of thinking. It is this thinking that led us to tackle a war against Iraq rather than continue to focus our energies against rogue bands scattered across mostly ungoverned parts of other nations.

The adminstration continues to attack Dick Clarke for his statements about the views of the administration prior to 9/11. However they would be much better off if they just admitted that 9/11 was an event that changed everything. If they could just admit a mistake and explain how they learned from it we would all be safer and have more confidence in our government. But the lengths they go to in order to avoid admitting any mistake shows how little they have learned from 9/11. For them 9/11 was the excuse to pursue the same agenda they wished they could pursue prior to 9/11. The two allegations that Clarke makes about pre-9/11 and post 9/11 are linked, and when one digs down to understand the real debate here it is apparent that Bush is not leading our nation in a safer direction.

It is amazing how long this basic truth has been concealed from us, but as we get more accounts from the inside, and the direction of actual policy becomes more clear it is apparent that we are blowing our fight against terror in some very basic ways. It is not an entire loss, but the fact that we are stuck in Iraq is a huge failure in our war against terror. Rather than learn from 9/11 that we need to fight a different set of battles we used 9/11 to fight this huge battle that was left over from an earlier era.

Some shallow thinking...

David Brooks must have been in a tough spot this week. He had to find a way to critique Richard Clarke while sounding superior himself. The somewhat predictable column that results is this piece of trash that ends with the lamentation that political discourse is just not what it should be.

Well, David, no s**t. Why do you think that is? Could it be that your beloved Republican party is quickly coming to the realization that their only chance in this election is to sling as much mud as possible to turn off voters from looking into the real issues? That could not possibly be true, right? After all we all know that every one loves tax cuts, and that is Bush's answer to every economic problem or challenge, so of course Bush must be eager for people to learn more. Except that when they do learn more they will learn that their tax cut is a fraction of what the most wealthy got, that we are rapidly decending into a debt that will be used as an excuse to cut programs that generally people tend to support.

Maybe the GOP is interested in a real discussion of foreign policy issues? Except that once one gets beyond the rhetoric of axis of evil, good versus bad, and hunt and kill all our enemies the Bush foreign policy is pretty hard to comprehend. Supposedly fighting a war against terror is our main priority, except that most of our armed forces are in Iraq, trying to fix a mess that we are now stuck with, probably for a long time. But Iraq was the biggest state sponsor of terrorism right? Well, no, that would be our allies in this war against terror, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. But Iraq was about controlling the proliferation of WMD? Umm...that does not really hold up either, since we all know there were no weapons in Iraq and that Pakistan has been far worse at distributing nuclear technology around the world. Hey, at least the war against terror has served to give new direction to our historical allies? Sorry, that has been torn apart by the Bush Adminstration as well. Somehow they have managed to drive away key allies by pursuing policies of such questionable benefit to the end goal of making the world safer.

Once again, David Brooks has looked around and given us a vapid assessment of the situation in US politics. His routine is becoming tired, but in the end his misleading statements are a drop in the bucket compared with what is coming straight from the mouths of our supposed leaders.

Friday, March 26, 2004

Pre-Saturday Brooks bashing...

I have made it a bit of a habit to bash the David Brooks op-ed pieces. Today via Atrios I found this article that takes Brooks to task for his wrong generalizations. I am shocked to find that he is not as smart as people believe. Really, what next, George Bush a lier?

The saga continues...

Of course the blog-o-verse is a buzz about Clarke, the 9/11 commission, and Bush's failure to take responsibility (well the last bit is what I am thinking). Here is what I put up on Drezner's blog, but it is less a comment and more a full on post:

I will continue to ask the question of what evidence is neccesary to convince the defenders of the Bush Adminstration that all might not be right in their world right now? The attacks that they are hurling at Clarke could be applied to anyone who said anything critical of the administration after previously having an inside view.

I have seen very little that has actually led me to question Clarke's account. I am talking about the evidence. Sure he might be motivated by greed, and he might be vindictive, but in the end this is not the path of least resistance for him. He could make a pile of money following the Bush party line, getting a gig on the Defense Policy Board, and using that connection to get some nice consulting fees to people like the Carlyle Group.

But he has turned his back on that route and is looking to set the record straight.

The element that disturbs me most is that the Bush administration (and the Clinton Administration) both appear reluctant to admit a failure in this matter. 3,000+ people are dead, they were killed as they were sitting in planes or at their desks, or trying to save the lives of others. The fact that happenend is enough evidence to me that there was a failure.

Clarke is the only person who seeems ready to take that failure personally and try to learn from it. He may not have all the answers, or even know exactly what could have been done to avoid the failure of 9/11, but at least he seems to be trying. All the other officials seem to believe that saying "there was nothing we could do" or "there is no guarantee action X would have prevented 9/11" is good enough. Well you know what, I want my leaders held accountable for their failures. The failure may not be a matter of incompentance or ignorance, it might just be that not failing would be really hard. Consider if I set out to run a 5 minute mile. I would probably fail, but I should at least figure out why I failed rather than just conceding that no matter what I would have done might not have prevented failure.

And this tone of denial of failure goes straight to the top. Bush is now saying, "If I had known terrorists were going to hijack planes I would have done everything to prevent that happening." Well, no sh*t. Only the most crazy conspiracy minded loon believes otherwise. But what I want to know is why he didn't know that terrorists were going to hijack planes.

It is 2004, and it is brutally obvious that the election colors every action of the Bush administration. But they have dug their own hole on this one. They were so afraid to admit taking some responsibility from the outset that as time passes it gets harder and harder for them to do so. But that is what they need to do. Admit the failure and make an effort to learn from it. Clarke's book, interviews, and testimony are all important steps towards doing that, and for that he should be seen as a hero, even if he is a vindictive person (or whatever other slur you want to toss his way).

What I leave unsaid here is that Bush is faced with the choice of doing the right thing which will hurt his campaign and continue doing what he is doing, which is his only chance of victory. It is a no-brainer which he will choose. The web of lies and deceptions gets spun thicker each day and the way out gets more difficult to negotiate without a total collapse. If his campaign succeeds with this strategy it will reflect a total failure of democracy and our electoral system. That is why the stakes are so high in this election. I disagree with Bush on so many issues, but if he were willing to put his positions forward truthfully and explain them fully to the American people I would be more willing to accept him. However, he knows that the truth behind his positions is not a winning position so he deceives, conceals, and lies. And if someone can get away with that then we need to look around at what is wrong with our system. Because while Bush might not bring down America in the next four years, there is nothing to prevent the next Hitler from pursuing the same strategy and really destroying our republic and all the values that we supposedly hold.

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Some sport...

Finally a post on something that doesn't get me mad. The Oxblog mentions in passing Cricket today. I am pretty sure that England has a low-level case of Cricket fever right now since the National Team is in the West Indies and are doing pretty well down there. The West Indies used to be the best team in the world, and their teams from the 70's and 80's are still considered to be among the best teams ever. Cricket is also a summer game, and as the temperature starts to rise some springtime Cricket is a great way to look ahead to summer time.

But the best team in the world right now are clearly the Australians, (check out this BBC article about them). They are currently playing in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka is a tough team with some great spin bowlers. Defeating them at home is a real achievement. Australia has won the first two tests with come from behind wins. This is pretty rare, and is bolstering the arguments comparing Australia to the West Indian teams mentioned above.

The last sport news worth passing on right now is that the Aussie Rules Football league starts their season this weekend. I have entered a tipping competition so I should be following the season fairly closely. I am curious to see if the St. Kilda Saints youth movement that was starting to pay dividends last year will put them into the playoffs this year. Things are looking good after they made the finals of the pre-season competition, and they have been tipped by Kevin Sheedy (coach of the powerhouse Essendon Bombers) to be one of the better teams in the competition.

Note: Further Blog reading reveals that England is actually not that engaged in the Cricket.

Tuesday, March 23, 2004

More mess...

This whole affair with Richard Clarke is probably the last straw for me. I am on the verge of losing all faith in our government. We have a fantastic Constitution, but if does not provide us with a government that can properly pursue our interests I don't know what to do. I really liked living in Australia though.

Anyway, I wanted to share this comment I put up on Drezner's comment section. I would point you towards there, but it is mostly infuriating nonsense. There are actually two interesting posts, which I will copy below. Here is my comment:

Is there any source, any person, any piece of information that could persuade the defenders of the Bush administration that he bears the slightest responsibility for 9/11 or has mismanaged the war on terrorism since the focus shifted to Iraq in the fall of 2002?

That is the question I have to all these people attacking Richard Clarke. Sure there are holes you could punch in his story. But really who the hell cares if Clinton could have done more to fight Al Qaeda? When he did attack Al Qaeda all he faced was opposition from the GOP.

Imagine what the outrage would be from the defenders of Bush would be if Clinton had taken every action Bush has and then these allegations came out. They would have him impeached in seconds and calls for his head on a platter would be deafening.

The defenders of Bush show no inclination to engage with the pluses and minues of the entire battle against terror, from January 2001 through today. As far as they are concerned everything is either Clinton's fault or the BEST possible thing that could have been done. When faced with a crisis our nation needs a leader who is more interested in defeating our enemies and learning from mistakes than working every angle of the war against terror for political advantage.

I am voting for John Kerry for a wide variety of reasons, but high on that list is that I believe he will make our nation and the world safer than George Bush.

Here is a great comment detailing just how much nonsense is being spewed by our President's men (and woman) on this issue:

First, Dan - fabulous comments.

Second, DT - what is with you?

You wrote
"The terrorists are not reacting to our legitimate use of force. No, on the contrary---appeasement policies, the reluctance to combat terrorism, is what really encourages them to perform further acts of violence. A John Kerry presidency, deep in its guts, would be fearful that military force will usually backfire. This is the Viet Nam syndrome and the Massachusetts senator cannot get away from his anti-war roots.

What are you talking about? The one country in the world that faces nearly daily terrorist attacks is Israel. They've always advocated "eye for an eye" policies. You may disagree, but I rather think that that policy occasionally cause more violences. We can see in the next few weeks if I'm right.

Second, why are you (and so many other people on the board) convinced a Kerry administration would be an American version of Neville Chamberlin? Look at the man's 20 year voting record. When hasn't he supported military or intelligent increases to our defense budget? I could care less about his war record - look at his political one. He's been backing the miltiary consistently. What's your evidence (i.e. verifiable facts) that he is going to be worse then Bush?

Third, why does demeaning Kerry defend the Bush Administration? Regardless of Clarke's intent (and if you like, assume it's malicious) what matters is the facts.

1. Did the Bush Administration ignore a credible terrorist threat before 9/11/2001? Clarke's consistent story is that they did. The fact he is independently backed by other people involved in counter-terrorism supports his statement.

2. Has the Bush Adminsitration used the war on terror to force a confrontation and occupation of Iraq? Clarke says that Wolfowitz wanted to go to war with Iraq prior to 9/11/2001. He further states that Rumsfeld & Wolfowitz planned to attack Iraq before Afghanistan. He says he was fired for not being on message. What's his supporting arguement? Well, we could look at the Iraqi war plans drawn up in April 2002. We might look at Wolfowitz's consistent push for Iraqi invasion.

3. Did the Bush Administration knowingly lie to Congress, the American people, and the World by claiming Iraq caused 9/11, Saddam Hussein funded Osama Bin Laden, and the existence of a clear and present danger to the United States from Iraq? Given that Clarke, every anti-terrorism expert on the planet, and AlQueda say that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11, I think we can say any statements by Administration officals (like Rice and Rumsfeld) promulgating the idea that Iraq funded/caused 9/11 is a lie. If we look at Hussein's pattern of terorist support, we can see that he always funded (a) very visbly, and (b) almost entirely on anti-Israeli terrorists. Furthermore the US governement paid Osama Bin Laden money to attack Iraq during the 1991 Gulf War. last and not least, Hussein was a socialist and atheist whom Bin Landen hated; Bin Laden has not supported any regime that hasn't espoused fundamentalist Sunni Islam. So claiming that funding occured is very likely a lie. Last and not least, on this board, no one has managed to defend the hypothesis that Iraq presented a clear and present danager to the US.

4. Did the Bush Administration realize that attacking Iraq would not benefit the war on terror? Clarke says yes. I think the current strength of Islamists in Afghanistan support his arguement. If Clarke is wrong, then the Bush Administration simply miscalculated. If Clarke is right, then the Bush Administration knowing endangered the security of the United States.

The core of your comments on every single comment section of the website is that the Bush Administration is our only defense against the terrorists and liberals who will destroy America. If Clarke's statements are correct, heck if only his statements about 9/12 are true, then the Bush Adminstration might be the biggest set of traitors this country has seen.

And if Clarke is telling half-truths, then the Administation should be taking Dan's line that they did good on somethings, and fouled up others. Since they're not - since they're making attacks just like yours - I'm led to believe Clarke might be telling the truth, and the Bush Administration is afraid of the consequences.

The second comment is just too damn long and will clog things up here more than they already are.

Thought exercise...

As we are knee deep in the Richard Clarke accusations and the 9/11 commission hearings I have a little thought exercise. Let's imagine that the terrorist attacks occured on 9/11/1993 or just that they happenend 8 months into any random Democratic administration. What do you think would be the GOP position? What do you think would be the GOP position if Clinton (or any other Democratic President) had done everything that Bush did in the 12 months after the attacks?

I think that the GOP would have been screaming for Clinton's head from 9/12 and that there would be no action that a Democrat could do which would convince those partisan hacks willing to play politics with National Security that a Democrat could be committed to national security. In that context it is amazing that Democrats have been so soft on the Bush adminstration for the period of January through September 2001. Let's be honest, the fact that 9/11 happenend is all the proof that we need that policy failed. Throw away all the debate about intelligence, what we knew, what we could do, what plans were being made. The fact is that 3,000 people died that day and the failure to save those lives is the failure.

That is the dirty truth that neither party wants to say. The GOP wants to imply that it was all Clinton's fault, and will come out guns blasting on that if anything starts to stick to the Bush adminstration. But there were 8 months for Bush to correct any failure of Clinton's policy and he didn't do that. You can talk all you want about systems and planning but the attack happenend on Bush's watch. It is his failure as much as anyone else's. But don't hold your breath waiting to hear that.

Monday, March 22, 2004

The weekend story...

The story of the weekend seems to have been the interview that Richard Clarke gave to 60 Minutes detailing Bush and his team's lack of interest in Al Qaeda and terrorism prior to 9/11. This is a pretty strong allegation, and if it sticks it could damage Bush. Although I am skeptical because the GOP will use their millions to put out an organized stream of lies to contradict any allegation thus confusing the public and getting them back to a base level of confusion about how dangerous is terrorism today. The counter attack has already begun, as Josh Marshall details in a series of posts (start here) detailing the response of Condi Rice.

For me the whole thing is just another lie. There have been lies before and there will be more lies. The Bush team lies as instictively as they breathe. I will not even bother going down the list because it will just get me more mad on Monday morning than I really want to be. The ugliness of the politics is also becoming more clear. Apparently over the weekend Lieberman and McCain both called for the campaign to have a more civil detailing of policy disagreements. I think there is little to no chance that will happen. Howard Dean was angry, but Kerry would probably love to have a long series of debates on the issues that are important to America. Bush on the other hand stands no chance if this were an election about issues. He loses everywhere. He gives tax cuts to the rich, he passes bad Medicare legislation by lying to Congress, he ignores terrorism while attacking another country on false pretenses, he fails to generate jobs when stimulating the economy and simultaneously running up an enormous deficit. It is such an ugly record you have to wonder why the Republican Party is even nominating him again.

But the answer is clear, it is because he is able to run a campaign of fear. That is all he has and all he will do. The worst predictions about how media manipulation and lies can come to take control of our nation are coming true. The reason given again and again about why Bush is that he will make our nation safe from terrorism. That is such a load of horseshit it stinks nationwide. Any person sitting in the Oval Office hearing briefings will do everything they think is possible to make our nation safer. Bush's decisions have made us less safe. He has no strategic foresight and a horrible set of ideological driven policy advisors. How they convinced themselves that the best next step to make the world safer was invading Iraq is beyond me. I don't think they have even reflected and figured that out themselves. The President has created a climate where confidence is more important than being right. Instead of staying flexible they are just steaming down a railroad track that is running right off a cliff. There are many times when I wonder what I will do if he continues to be in charge of ruining a great nation. There are other great nations in the world, maybe they will have me?

The story of the weekend was just more evidence that Bush will lie, that he is a bad leader, and that the war on terror was nothing more than a political gift to him, something to exploit at every opportunity to pull the wool over a nation's eyes while he steals its heart and soul. If people didn't know that already I have no idea what could possible convince them at this point. So by all means I hope this story ends up with Bush being taken to task by the press, but I have no optimism that will actually happen, and think that in the end the web of lies will not be taken down with little snips but will come crashing down. And with our luck that will happen sometime in December of this year.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Keep your eye on the Malaysian elections, going on as I type this. I spent a few days there just last week, and so I got a quick education about the lay of the political landscape.

Now I'm hardly an expert on anything, but Malaysia strikes me as an incredibly important country in Samuel Huntington's Clash of Civilizations, if that's really what is going to happen. Malaysia is the most moderate and democratic Muslim country around (except perhaps Bangladesh), and if secular -- or at least tolerant -- Islam can be successful there, it would present an important model to the rest of the Muslim world (kind of like the neo-cons thought Iraq would be).

Anyway, this is a very important and interesting election because the coalition party (Barison Nacional) is trying to roll back the gains that the fundamental Islamists (PAS) made in 1999. Everyone seems to think that they will do this, winning 75 or 80% of the seats, and this has me a bit concerned, since electoral surprise seems to be the theme for 2004. [There is no way that BN will lose, since the Prime Minister is very popular and the 40% of Malaysia that is not Muslim is not likely to vote for PAS, but if PAS has a strong showing, it would likely push BN way to the right.]

I have to leave right now, but I hope to post further about Malaysian-style Islam soon.

Friday, March 19, 2004


A little while ago I put up a link to the Federal Election Committee site where you can find out things like which politicians your co-workers donate to. I was told that there is a far better interface that provides the same information. You can check it out here.

First Political Animal comment...

Kevin Drum, formerly the Calpundit, has a paying gig over at the Washington Monthly now. Pretty impressive stuff if you ask me. Anyway, I just contributed by first post to his comment section, another chance to weigh in on the Kerry and World Leaders thing. I like my first line, which is why I am putting it up here. I would also encourage you to click on this link to the Guardian that was provided in the original post:

Bush's amazing unpopularity around the world has almost turned him into the "third rail" of international relations. Blair is somewhat of a special case because he is the party of the left, but in many other nations where parties of the right have been in control appearing next to Bush would be like Kerry appearing next to Kim Jong Il.

The awful truth of this whole thing is that Bush is loathed by the world, he makes life difficult for foreign leaders, and they would certainly rather see him go. I am sure that he thinks that he would rather see other people in charge in some other nations (see Germany and France). But all this is supposed to go unspoken.

Kerry made a goof by bringing it up in the way that he did. He should have just said that the world wants Bush out of office and left it at that. But the way that the Republicans have pushed this issue is certainly not endearing them to these foreign leaders either. They would rather just watch from the sidelines and see who they are stuck following for the next four years and make the best of whatever situation.

I kind of feel bad for the rest of the world. So much policy is dictated by the US and yet they have no say at all in who sets that policy. I suppose that if we really wanted to encourage global democracy we would create a very different international political system. But that is NEVER going to happen.

Krugman speaks the truth (again)...

It is remarkable how one man, an economist at that, can so accurately put his finger on the pulse of the adminstration. Maybe it is just because it is far easier to write a critical column twice a week when you have such a wealth of source material. As long as Brooks insists on using the defense of the Bush Administration as source material he will flounder and fail.

Thursday, March 18, 2004

More on Economic Growth...

Related to a couple of posts from a few weeks ago, I thought this article from INC magazine was relevant. The article ranks the top 25 cities for doing business. They find that the best cities for doing business tend to be in the Midwest and Southeast, and are not cities that are typically seen as the most popular places. The key metric used to select these cities is job growth. However I will say it again, I think this is a pretty crappy metric. The other key metric was that the job growth was balanced across a variety of industries.

The first thing is that job growth is a bad metric because there are lots of kinds of jobs. Sure a job is better than no jobs. But to say that Boston is a worse place to do business than Bismark is just silly. The fact is that companies that produce higher value products locate in Boston because it is a great place to do business. And while regulations that restict business irrationally are never a good thing, in someways they can serve a purpose. Policies that restrict business in Boston really on restrict low value businesses. High value businesses are still able to be here, and in the end you would rather see high value businesses than low value business.

The other metric is flawed because the most successful economies are specialized, not balenced. They are specialized in high value industries. The same is true for nations. You are seeing less steel made in the US because it is a low value product. Steel companies cannot compete because labor is expensive. And labor is expensive because if they were paying $6 / hour they would not be able to find workers. People have more and better options in the US. The same is true when comparing cities in the US. The complaint that SF is expensive is only valid for the companies that are not producing enough value to justify the cost of SF. If there were not companies that could justify the cost of being in SF then there would be no jobs, people would leave, and the cost of living would fall. In reality the cost of living is a measure of a successful economy, not job growth.

Sidenote: The end of the article also has a flaw when the Inland Empire is included in the tag-line for mid-size cities, when it was ranked above as a large city. I guess they thought Fresno and Bakersfield are the Inland Empire.


One of the things I have learned in the last few months is that the US government has a wealth of information available, that is easily accessed, and not used nearly as much as it should. This release from the Census Bureau provides some interesting data about Graduate Degree distribution. But more interesting is that they are going to start Census Long-Form level sampling on an annual basis. This is good news, it will give us a much better insight on deep demographic trends at a pattern more regularly than every 10 years. I think that in the coming years we will see more new data sets from the Census Bureau. Computers have made compiling and analyzing data dramatically cheaper, and you know that they are going to look for new ways to spend their budget rather than give it back to Congress.

As a side note I was going to make a point about more educated states being more democratic, but then I realized that if Democrats were really smarter than Republicans they wouldn't lose elections to Republicans.

Thoughts on the question of who foreign leaders support...

I put up some thoughts on the whole thing of which foreign leaders are actually supporting Kerry. Frankly, I am not sure how I got sucked into commenting on the Centerfield blog, but I thought it was worth putting up here as well:

It is pretty obvious that Bush is making a mountain out of a mole hill on this one, and that Kerry just should have not have said anything in the first place.

But it is a basic truth that most of the world hates Bush. Fortunately for him they don't get to vote against him. But they do vote in their countries. Politically it is a difficult position for foreign leaders: they know that following the US is the right thing to do, but they wish they could put a better face on it than George W Bush.

In the end it doesn't really matter though because there are probably as many Americans who want to defy the rest of the world as respect the views of the rest of the world.

The entire affair though makes me think that Bush campaign was well primed for this one. They knew that Kerry would say something about this at some point (because it is true) and they were ready with the "name the names" counter-attack, which they knew Kerry just could not do. The entire thing probably did not endear Bush to foreign leaders (and might not have done much for Kerry either).

Shocking news...

The New York Times reports today that there might be some lying going on in the Bush Adminstration. Well, at least it is not something important, like National Security, they would never dream of misleading the American people on something that important.

The big question...

Following up on my last post, I think there is one central flaw to our entire "War on Terror" that needs to be answered before any thing intelligent can be said in support or against it. We need to define: What does victory look like? and What does failure look like? Let's have Bush say what each of those look like and then we can properly judge if he is succeeding in his policies.

And a note to the GOP: "We will not back down" is a policy, not an outcome. I want to know what is the outcome that indicates success.

The Lunacy of the Iraq war supporters...

I have been stewing an argument in my head that may not make any sense, but bear with me (and yes...it is fari to ask how this will be different from any other post). First, we all know there was another horrible bombing in Iraq yesterday, and another one today, and a few days ago some American civillians were shot dead, and there was a story in the NYT about how the terrorists continue to inflict losses on the US troops. I did a quick scan of a few blogs that were big supporters of the war (namely Andrew Sullivan, the Oxblog, and Dan Drezner) and there was remarkably little thought given to what is actually going on in Iraq.

In the wake of Cheney's hate and lie filled diatribe against Kerry yesterday (Yes, I would not expect anything else) I started wondering what exactly is the position of those who continue to repeat that invading Iraq was the right thing to do and that it is a key part of keeping the world safe from terrorism. It is clear that every foreign policy issue today comes back to Iraq, but most of them don't seem to favor us much. Spain gets hit by a terrorist bombing and the government gets voted out. What in the world could be wrong with voting out a government that has pursued policies which have failed. If there was no war in Iraq would Spain have been a target? Probably not, so why should they support a policy that has done more to put their own country in harm's way than make it safer.

Of course the stock response to what I am saying is that I am giving in to the terrorists, and that I am an appeaser, and that by rewarding terrorism all I am doing is encouraging more terrorism. But that is just such a vapid argument. It is like saying if there is a crazy rapid dog that is chained up in a cage the best way to deal with it is to walk into the cage and try to fight it without a weapon. It is just plain stupid to believe that the best way to deal with terrorist is to fight them, on their turf, and on their terms. Did it ever occur to anyone that might be exactly what the terrorists want? After all if they really wanted to not be fought fiercely and in their homes than why the heck would they start doing things like 9/11 in the first place. If they wanted to be ignored then they probably would not have messed with our business. Of course I am not saying that we should just ignore them. We just need to find new ways to fight the war against terror.

I have digressed from my point about Iraq, although it is similar to what I am saying about the "war" on terrorism. I am wondering what exactly is the defense of the war in Iraq today? What is the justification? And most importantly, what are we planning to do to make sure that we come out with a victory. Right now the only thing that remotely looks like victory is that Sadaam Hussein is out of power. But there is a lot more that I would need to describe victory. First and foremost we would have to be making the US and our allies safer. I think we are far from that. Then I would want to see the Iraqi people safe, and the last few days have shown that we are far from that. Then I would want to see a government in Iraq that represents the people while also being friendly to the concerns of the US. We are quite far from that as well. I would also expect that this action in Iraq would have increased the US's ability to acheive our goals aroun the world without needing to resort to force. Again, while I am sure that we are a credible threat I don't think that we have done much to solidify our position as a soft leader of the world.

It is just an entirely bankrupt war against terror. One that has been horribly sidetracked by an adventure in Iraq where we are quite far from achieving any of our goals, and yet at significant cost to human lives and international credibility. It has opened up huge gaps between the US and our allies that are starting to be exploited. These gaps reflect the fact that some nations are open to self-reflection, while the US is so blindly committed to following one simplistic description of policy that we are almost doomed to failure.

Flexibility is a key aspect of war. And thanks to our simplistic leadership we are sacraficing our flexibility at a global level. It once was the case that Iraq was an enemy of Islamic Fundamentalists. Since our invasion has plunged their land into chaos they are aligned in their goal to defeat the US. Rather than recongnize that we might actually be more successful with a divide and conquer strategy we are choosing the always foolish strategy of us good, them bad, and lets fight all bad as if it were the same enemy. What an idiotic thing. It took Hitler to make the US and Stalin friends in the 1940's. Today it is taking the US to make all our enemies friends with each other. I am not advocating ceasing our fight against terror, I am just trying to make the case that what we are doing today is not winning, it is not making me safer, and that scares me.

Why are we doing this? My cynical answer is politics. It plays well to talk in soundbites about good fighting evil. However that should not guide policy. My fear is that Bush will win the political battle and then lose the real battle against the people who are threatening us. I continue to beleive we are cursed with the "WORST PRESIDENT EVER!"

Wednesday, March 17, 2004

The namzad and I have been vacationing in Singapore and Malaysia for much of the last week, and so I haven't been able to follow recent events very closely. But today I took the time to read the Straits Times, Singapore's major daily, and I was a little disturbed by the tone of the coverage: essentially that Al Qaeda emerged victorious in Spain because it managed to tip an election in the direction it wanted.

I came here to write an angry denunciation of this view, but I see that the Yankee has beaten me to it several times over. So I'll be brief.

The logical extension of this line of argument is, of course, that Al Qaeda is locked in a mortal struggle with George Bush, and anything that hurts Bush is good for Osama. So why the hell would anyone vote for Kerry this fall?

And that's a tough line to counter -- after all, who wants to be on the side of the terrorists?

But that argument makes a couple of tenuous assumptions: that Osama wants Bush out of office and that he's correct in thinking that this would be good for Al Qaeda. As for the former, I have no idea what's going on in Osama's mind, but I think it's entirely possible that he thinks -- as I do -- that Bush is screwing up the war on terror and that it would be just fine for Islamic terrorists if he stayed in office for another four years. As for the second point, just because Osama wants something doesn't mean that we should wish for the opposite to happen. He's made major miscalculations before (such as the attacks in Saudi Arabia, assuming he approved them in some manner), and he probably will again. I don't happen to believe that Osama can see the future -- we shouldn't make political calculations out of fear of what he thinks. Instead, we should pursue the policies that we think will bring victory -- and I happen to think that the first step is voting Bush out of office, so we can seek to build a truly international coalition against terror.

While I'm on the subject, there was a very good op-ed piece in the Singapore paper by a fellow at the Cato Institute who was formerly an aide to Ronald Reagan. It read like a Joshua Marshall piece, only from someone who presumably has impressive conservative credentials. I take it as further evidence of a conservative - neocon split, and I hope it continues to grow.

Tuesday, March 16, 2004

The Idiocy of David Brooks...

Not surprisingly David Brooks tries to argue the other side of my view of the Spanish elections. And, of course, he does it poorly and comes off sounding like an idiot. Here is the money line, "But I do know that reversing course in the wake of a terrorist attack is inexcusable. I don't care what the policy is." Well, David, let's say that policy was to allow knives on planes, is changing that policy inexcusable? What about not directing resources to where the terrorists actually are? Is changing that policy inexcusable? I think a better argument is that not changing policy in the wake of a terrorist attack is inexcusable. We changed policy from one of ignoring Al Qaeda and Afganistan to a very aggressive stance in the wake of our terrorist attack. I am wondering if David Brooks thinks that was inexcusable.

He ends with the line, "This is a watershed event. It will change how Al Qaeda thinks about the world. It will change how Europeans see the world. It will constrain American policy for years to come." Which is probably a good thing. Our adventure in Iraq has been a failure from the point of view of making the world safer from terrorism. Maybe a little constraint would be a good thing? As for changing the way Al Qaeda thinks? I doubt it. Their goal was not to influence an election, their goal was to kill people. Is this going to change that goal? And maybe it will change the way Europeans see the world. They will be much more focused on stopping Islamic Fundamentalist terrorism. They are going to search for ways to do that. And you can bet that supporting the US in Iraq is going to be pretty low on their list. In fact, trusting the US in general might be low on their list. Brooks is right to say that we have failed in convincing the world that what we are doing in Iraq is the right course of action. But he is too blind to see that it hard to convince the world that the source of our trouble might be that it is really NOT the right course of action. We have been mislead and deceived into beleiving that Iraq is part of our war on terror. It is a sideshow, and the sooner the two stop being lumped together the sooner we can start making real steps towards making the world safer from terrorism.

Sometimes I wonder if David Brooks was just hired by the NYT to put up idiotic arguments from the right as part of their left-wing bias. There must be dozens of people out there who could at least come up with a better argument than this, yet still supports the President and his allies.


I stumbled over to Not Geniuses this morning, a blog I typically avoid because...well...I find the title of their blog a bit too accurate a description. And I was not disappointed. There was this post about a Wal-Mart Board meeting in China, linking to this story. I thought they kind of missed the point, so I added this comment to their quiet comment section (I am sure I will be attacked for being a Wal-Mart shill, but it is better than that anti-semite slur I earned yesterday on Drezner's blog):

The interesting part of the article is that it plays up the angle of China as a market for goods, rather than a source.

In this way Wal-Mart in China is a good thing for the US economy. Wal-Mart will be forced (by US sources of goods) to sell things like non-Pirated DVDs, with the money coming back to America. If we are going to end up having a more equal trading relationship with China it is going to come from companies like Wal-Mart making that market more responsible for intellectual property.

Also, we need to keep in mind that Wal-Mart simply having stores in China is providing US jobs. The high level managers are all American, and probably still based in America (hence the trip). I would much rather have those jobs in America then jobs making crappy goods which are never going to be high paying.

All this is not a defense of Wal-Mart in general, just a warning to be careful which aspects of Wal-Marts business you are attacking.

BTW: I also realize that the Not Genius described the Board meeting in question as a "Board of Supervisors". Sorry, but that would be a "Board of Directors". Boards of Supervisors are usual elected, (esp. in California), and Wal-Mart is not going to be run in the public's interest alone, no matter how much you hope.

Oh yeah...

In my post below I glanced over several other things that influenced the election. My argument was simply to attack one view of the election result, not to argue that my view is what actual occured. (That probably makes little sense, but it is the truth).

Another view of the election, which I think has a lot of truth to it, is that Aznar was voted out for playing politics with the bombing. He thought that an Al Qaeda bomb would harm him while an ETA bomb would help him. Thus he, and the government, played up the ETA angle. This is the view in the Calpundit post I linked to, and it is also the view that I heard when talking to a Spaniard about the bombing on Sunday afternoon. In his view it was really the manipulation of the press and the reporting of the event that clinched it for the Socialist, and for this guy the Socialist getting in power was not a good thing, but he knew that his side had really lost the plot and deserved to lose the election.

And thinking about it I am sure that Bush would do something similar in the case of a bombing in the US, and I hope that Americans would see right through it as easily as the Spanish did. I am not sure I would bet on it though.

All of this raises the question of what impact an attack would have on the US election. If there was a bombing somewhere, you know that Bush would say it is proof we need to fight this "war" on terror, we are in a "war", and we cannot back down now. However, it is also true that the fact we were attacked would be an indication we are not winning the "war" and we would need to re-evalutate how we were fighting terrorism. The problem I have with that is I am not sure what describes success and failure in this "war". Is this a case where stopping every attack is possible, or is one attack in 3 years since 9/11 evidence that we are doing a damn good job and should stay the course. I know that no one would say the latter, but that is what is implied by Bush's view and it might actually be correct.

It is something of a catch-22. Like last year when there were claims that the rising number of attacks in Iraq were evidence that we were succeeding there. If an attack is a sign of success then what is a sign of failure. How can we evaluate the effectiveness of our efforts? What is the benchmark? I am not sure of the answer to these questions, and hopefully we will never have to find out. One thing is certain: If we are not dying, we are winning; because really that is the only goal that Al Qaeda clearly has.

The run-down...

There is one story that mattered over the last week. The Madrid bombings and the subsequent Spanish elections. And the conventional wisdom is emerging that Al Qaeda won because they bombed and changed the result of the election. This is so horribly wrong that it makes me sick to my stomach.

The logic goes that after the bombings Spaniards thought that they would be safer if they kept their distance from the US, thus the withdrawl from Iraq. However nothing could be farther from the truth. This logic seems to assume that the war on terror and the war in Iraq are the same thing. Now Bush might be doing a good job of convincing the American people that this is the case, but in the rest of the world it is a joke. The rest of the world is looking at us in Iraq and wondering what the f**k are we thinking trying to fight two enemies at once.

If the American government went to the new government of Spain today and said, "We feel your loss, we know that you do not support our work in Iraq, but lets find a way to use the resources that you were putting towards Iraq to fight Al Qaeda," they would jump at that offer. The truth is that we are not as safe as possible because we are dedicating so much resources towards a sideshow. The sideshow might have some benefits, but ultimately it is a horribly inefficient way to defeat an enemy that cannot be fought just by choosing certain nations to invade. It is kind of like the Bush tax cuts, sure they are a form of economic stimulus, but they are about the worst possible form of economic stimulus imaginable.

It gets me very angry that the GOP voices are speaking against the idea that the war on terror is going to be won by conventional law enforcement. That is always going to be the largest part of keeping our nation safe. It is all part of the same continum of enforcement that runs from the police officer on the beat to the special forces operations in Afganistan. It is all about finding and stopping the people who are organizing to kill innocent civilians. We should start with the most basic and work our way up to the most invasive. It is just plain stupid to do it otherwise. The current situation from the mouths of the GOP is like saying, "That Soprano family is really doing some bad things in New Jersey, lets invade New Jersey." Well, you know what? Sending an army in to do a job that a cop should do is really not the best way to do something. Sure it might work, but again, it is all about trying to find the best possible way to accomplish something, rather than the most aggressive way.

I am sure that there will be nations where Special Forces and invasions are going to be the way to fight terrorism, but it is far from the only way. Afganistan is an example. We didn't invade Afganistan on Sept.12. Rather we said are you with us in this fight? They refused to cooperate by handing over Bin Laden and cracking down on Al Qaeda, they were invaded. Every other nation is at least playing lip service to cooperation with the US. I am not sure of the degree of that cooperation, but invasions are not in the cards right now. The right answer is to find where the terrorists are by old fashioned intelligence and detective work and then do whatever is required to stop those terrorists.

I think that is what the US is doing by and large (Iraq being the glaring, hideous exception). However it is not what the GOP is saying, and that is disturbing.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Here in Melaka, I got the chance to watch the last thirty minutes (taped) of the Man U - Porto game. I have three comments: Man U looked disinterested (until the injury-time equalizer), Van Nistelrooy or however you spell that is really, really good, and Tim Howard is not really to blame for the losing goal.

The context of my third comment is that the English-language papers around here have painted him (and also Ferguson, who stands accused of tearing apart the Red Devil dynasty) as the goat -- he "allowed" a rebound that was easily put away. Well, having seen the play, Howard made a nice save; it would have been difficult to redirect the ball to a safer location, much less give up no rebound. If you want to point fingers, look at the back line defenders who didn't bother to check the Porto striker sitting 5 yards out from the goal.

Just wanted to stand up for a fellow American under fire.

Thursday, March 11, 2004


Check out this Calpundit post on the West Wing map. My question is just what is the "President's Study" used for? Since we know he doesn't actually study policy (thanks for the insight Paul O'Neill) I am wondering what goes on in this room?

How f'd up is this...

What is there to say about this attack in Spain? Just that it is terribly, terribly tragic. The backstory will be written later.

Keeping it real...

Sorry for the radio silence this week, things have been a bit busier than I was hoping. But I have had a chance to read some interesting posts this week. I think the most interesting line that has been coming out of the blogs that I have been reading is the thought that we are all going to get very tired of this Presidential campaign in a hurry. I cannot disagree. These campaigns don't seem to be holding back any good material at the start, and the lines against each other are pretty tired already.

The most interesting back and forth to me has been the first attack by Bush, that Kerry has been in Washington long enough to take two sides on every issue. Bush has always seemed to sense that it is better to be steady than right, which is more being stubborn than steady. At the same time he plays the political game just like everyone else and when his stance is not flying, he will change just like everyone else. Josh Marshall has been running down a few examples. But the list is long and distinguished. The Homeland Security Department, the Halliburton oil charging scandel, the testimony before the 9/11 commission, the formation of a committee to investigate intelligence, the rationale for tax cuts, and on and on. I am not attacking these changes of decision, it just seems silly and foolish to attack your opponent for changing positions when you are so good at it yourself. I am starting to wonder if this campaign really is going to be blunder followed by blunder by the Bush campaign as they are held afloat only by the ridiculous idea that he is the only person who will do everything possible to keep our nation safe (I should post again on this soon).

Last point for this post is the slamming of the GOP by Kerry in an off the record line and the GOP response. The GOP Chair is demanding an apology saying that it is an unfair attack. Perhaps at the same time he can clarify exactly what attacks require future apologies and which do not. Is it OK to accuse your opponent of being a communist and endorsed by North Korea while claiming that is the only the foreign support? What about simply unfairly characterizing past votes in congress? What about calling your opponent an "economic isolationist" when all he is doing is making the claim that we need to be smarter about our free trade agenda rather than running away from it? I think that the public is going to see right through this petty whining from the GOP. They may not find Kerry's attacks appealing but the GOP's whining is pretty pathetic as well.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Creative Class continued...

After writing the last post on critiques of the creative class thesis I actually read one of the articles on which the Boston Globe article was based. The piece is "The Curse of the Creative Class" by Steven Malanga in The City Journal. The City Journal is published by the Manhattan Institute, a generally conservative think-tank on urban issues. And since the Creative Class thesis values new thinking and liberal ideas it is not surprising that they come out against Florida's ideas.

While there are some valid grounds to attack the Creative Class thesis, the main thrust of Malanga's critique is misguided. First the good stuff in the critique. The element that I find most appealing is the idea that government should not be putting money towards programs that encourage development of the creative class. The point is made that the conditions that appeal to "creatives" are hard to create especially for governments. I agree with this. Government can avoid passing policies that interfere with creatives. They can also do certain things like provide good schools that appeal to all people, creative or otherwise. But putting a lot of money into arts is probably just going to lead to bad art.

The case is also made that many of the trends identified by the Rise of the Creative Class are just extrapolations of the dot-com era. I can't disagree with this either, and is just something that all analysis that looks at the mid to late '90s has to deal with. Overall, though I don't think this critique sinks the entire idea, which boils down to a few cool places having successful economies.

In the end though, Malanga deepens his critique to go to the root of that idea. Malanga makes the economics of the thesis are flawed, that the cities held up as meccas of the creative class have actually trailed the nation in job growth, and are losing population to other places. But what Malanga ignores in his attack on the economics is rising wages and income. This is a pretty glaring omission. Florida's idea of success is not just jobs, but good jobs, jobs that drive innovation are dependent on being a creative place. Areas Malanga holds up as the best examples of success in Florida's thesis are New York, San Francisco, Boston, and Austin, TX. Of these areas New York, San Francisco, and Boston have among the highest per capita personal incomes of any metro area in the US (according to 2001 data from the BLS). While Austin had one of the highest rates of growth in that same metric between 1992 and 2001 (trailing only the SF Bay area, Denver/Boulder, and Houma, LA (the last one having very low levels of income at the start of the period).

In many ways income is a much better measure of success than the job growth stat that Malanga uses. Job growth is limited in the many areas by space. As places become more crowded space becomes scarcer, and the price rises. I am sure that there are lots of business that would like to locate in New York, Boston, or the Bay Area, but cannot due to price concerns. And those price concerns are not just driven by taxes and government regulation, but by the fact that employees of all business must compete with each other for the scarce resource of space. New York is crowded. If you want to build an auto plant or a distribution facility you would be a fool to build it any where near New York. You would have to pay people enough to allow them to compete with Investment Bankers and Corporate Lawyers for housing, and the fact is that companies can afford to pay those professionals more because they are more productive. A warehouse worker is just less productive, gets a lower wage, and thus those companies look to lower cost locations.

And this is supported by the data. The areas that Malanga holds up as examples of success inspite of not being creative include New Orleans, Memphis, Oklahoma City, and Las Vegas. Three of these areas are below the national average in average income, with Memphis being above average by about $100. On the metric of wage growth these areas have a mixed performance, with Memphis being slightly above average, New Orleans and Oklahoma City right around average, and Las Vegas slightly below average. The fact is that these areas are attracting jobs because they are low cost. My point is that this is not a bad thing for them, but it is also not a policy prescription for places that are able to attract jobs by having superior quality of life rather than low costs.

Malanga also holds up Migration as a key stat to measure the success of places. He states that many of the most successful places are not attracting a net positive domestic migration. However, what he does not examine is the characteristics of the migrant flows. New York, Boston, and the Bay area are expensive. Because of that they drive out the people who are best suited to work in the industries that also can't afford to locate in these crowded, successful metro areas. At the same time people are drawn to these metro areas who want to work in industries that have a high wage. So while there may be more people moving out than in, the areas are changing their demographic mix to be more high-income people, more educated people, and more people working in "creative" industries.

Now these trends are not all causes for celebration. In the Boston area studies are being done that lament the loss of the "middle-class" from the Boston area as they move to the south and to New Hampshire. The study finds that while Boston is doing fine attracting educated people from economic competitor areas, it is failing to retain the less skilled workers who are being priced out of the market. Now if the City Journal wants to lament this trend, I would welcome their input, but I don't think they are intending to argue against the basic supply and demand situation that is causing the "creative" cities to become higher income while other areas attract the middle income residents.

I think that a lot more could be done to look at the trends going on, specifically as it relates to the characteristics of the migrant flows. But I think I have made my point, which is that while Florida's thesis is not perfect, the economics of it still do work for some places.

Creative Class (again)...

I have not written as much about urban related issues as I expected when I started this blog. But one topic that I have hit on several times is the "creative class" theory developed by Richard Florida. His theory boils down to cool places do well. But there are a lot of add-ons, measurements, and self-promotions included in the basic structure. (As some background you can check out these posts: This one for some background, This one using it to talk about Ultimate Frisbee, and This one relating it to broader trends.

While there is certainly some good ideas and elements of truth to his theory, it is far from perfect. The Boston Globe had a good article summarizing some of the critics last week. I have been working with actual places as they try to figure out what is going to be their economic future. Florida's ideas hold a lot of appeal to planners. He describes places and people that are successful in very attractive ways. Every place dreams of being the home to the next huge industry, or having a lifestyle that seems perfect.

However from my point of view this future is limited to a very small number of places. Florida creates a very broad statistical definition of the creative class, while at the same time describing in a fairly narrow manner. He states that 30% of American workers are "creatives", but does that on an industry basis. However, his statisitical definition caputures lots of workers in creative industries that are not really creative (think of the assemblers of computer chips or the receptionists at Biotech labs) while excluding workers who are creative, but do not fit into his industry classifications (think of the metal fabricators on the show American Chopper). From this flawed (but still probably best possible) definition of creative class I think he misses the point that there are wide variety of preferences among people who are creative. Not all creatives value the things included in Florida's "Bohemian Index" the same way.

This leads to the real problem that I have with his theory...which is that it only describes on example of a successful future for an economy. I am of the opinion that there are a wide variety of possible successful futures for local and regional economies. Success depends on finding the unique elements of each local area and making them the cornerstones of a sustainable competitive advantage. For some areas, like the ones that Florida uses as examples of his version of success, chasing the creative bohemians is the recipe for success. It would be incredibly foolish for Massachusetts to become a regressive state with respect to Gay rights. But while that might be a cornerstone for a successful future of the Boston regional economy, the same might not be true for the Inland Empire in California (which one of Florida's critics, Joel Kotkin uses as an alternative example).

Each place should look to its own situation and potential competitive advantages and find a strategy that will lead to a successful future. For some places low taxes might be key to that future, for others good vocational education and community colleges might be key, for others attractive quality of life for highly educated workers might be right. Each of these things is never bad, but resources are not unlimited and each place needs to focus on the programs that will have the greatest possible impact. That is where I think Florida's thesis becomes dangerous. What he is saying is that his formula is the right path for every place. This leads to every place trying to compete for the same people. Places that are disadvantaged will put resources against this, and ultimately continue to fall further behind.

In the end I don't think that Florida is wrong, I just think that one-size fits all strategies are inherently flawed. By the same account I think that his critics are wrong in saying that Florida is wrong about the seeds of success for places like Boston and the SF Bay area. One critic says that cost of starting a business is a very important metric. And it is for some places. However for a place like Boston a higher cost can be a good thing. It raises the price of being in the area, and thus makes sure that only business that find that cost worthwhile to locate here. It is a misuse of the area's limited assets to start low-value businesses in the area. And anyone who knows about the local economic environment will say that rate of business creation is not a real problem for this market.

Saturday, March 06, 2004

Some good links...

In the time since I have posted there a number of things I read that I think are worth passing on. The first is this op-ed by John Kerry on the eve of the Super Tuesday primary. I found it amazing. Read side by side with this one by Edwards shows why Democratic voters made the right decision.

I have made a habit of digging into the shockingly bad columns by David Brooks. The Decembrist got into the act this week and does a far better job than I ever did.

The best Talking Points Memo post of the week is this speculation about why we are chasing Bin Laden 24/7 now. When I saw it that was my first question as well. What have we been doing if not chasing him 24/7?

I'm back...

After a week away from blogging (and most of normal life) I am back. There are certainly plenty of topics to catch up on. The most shocking news of the week was the suicide bombing in Iraq. When I saw that video of the bomb and heard that it was a suicide bomber I couldn't believe it. The size of the blast coming from a bomb strapped to a person shocked me. It highlighted the fragility of the situation in Iraq and how much work we have to do before our mission to Iraq can be seen as any kind of success. It also highlighted to me what Israel has been going through. The thought of a bomb like that going off in a Disco, a cafe, or on a bus must be terrifying.

The other big news, but not surprising, was John Edwards dropping out and John Kerry essentially becoming the Democratic nominee. The campaign has been interesting to this point, but essentially the stakes were pretty low. Aside from the period of fear of Dean becoming the nominee, most Democrats were pretty indifferent as to who would take on Bush. Now we know who is going to be the person to take on Bush and take our nation away from the dangerous track we have been on for the last three years. This is the point where I say that Kerry is my man, and ask all who have been agreeing with what I have been writing here to give money to John Kerry. Sure he is not above criticism and is not perfect, but he is a damn lot better than Bush. And we all owe it to our nation to help him. I honestly feel that it is the right thing to do. It is getting beyond being a matter of opinion.

We were duped into a war. I, and everyone else in the world was lied to on the most serious of matters. Lots of people have died for a policy that has never been fully explained. And that is just the tip of the iceberg. The list is so long it is horrifying. The thought of everyone looking the other way while Bush instills fear in America as a re-election strategy is terrifying. There are times that I wonder what the message will be to a world yearning for democracy if the US re-elects this man. Everyone looking in from the outside sees through these lies. But in the US it is harder. There is no objective truth out there, it is just one side versus the other, and fewer people know where to turn for the truth. Bush likes to see the world in black and white, but his entire campaign is about creating gray. It is about blurring the truth into a matter of opinion and creating enough fear to make people nervous to step into the unknown.

I only hope that this house of cards will come crashing down on him and his team as their echo chamber of lies collapses in the stiff breeze of a campaign. If it does not then we are all in deep, deep trouble.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Back when I lived in the United States, I don't remember ever being upset that I hadn't taken a camera to work. In Afghanistan, I feel that way all the time.

My office has a sweeping vista of Pashtunistan Square, the favored site in Kabul for protests and demonstrations. Today, the 10th of Muharram, is a major Shiite religious holiday, and right now an enormous procession is winding along outside my window.

Imagine the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, except without the balloons and marching bands and with thousands of teenage boys hitting themselves. Many are dressed entirely in bright green, as if they are auditioning to join Robin Hood's Merry Men. But while Little John was often singing songs, I don't remember him whacking himself in the face with a metal chain. I'm told by a reliable source that tonight they will break out the double-bladed knives and really get down to business, but for now there have only been a few spillings of blood, and the ambulances lining the route are mostly idle.

I probably shouldn't be so glib about a serious religious ceremony, but it is one of the strangest things I've ever seen. And I'm not the only one; hundreds of Sunnis are standing along the parade route, looking more than a little bewildered and amused.