Yankee Blog

Sunday, May 30, 2004

In correspondence with a loyal reader earlier this evening, I made the offhand comment that Bush Jr. is the worst president we've had since at least the Great Depression.

And he is that, according to my political sensibilities, but I wonder whether a convincing case could be made objectively (and if so, why the hell does 40% of America think he's doing a swell job?). I mean, what exactly are his accomplishments?

Thanks to the magic of the internet, I came across a site that sincerely tries to catalog his successes, month by month.

Go check out the site right now, because it is unintentionally hilarious. I'll wait.

Now, I can understand feeling good about proclaiming Religious Freedom Day each January, but is there anyone who thinks that signing the Presidential Records Act Executive Order was a great accomplishment? Is there a large constituency I'm not aware of that strongly favors limiting public access to Presidential papers?

Unfortunately, the page stops at September 2003 (funny, that), so I'm sure it's missing a lot of triumphant events, like when President Bush and Dick Cheney testified together in front of the 9/11 Commission...

Friday, May 28, 2004

Oh my god...

This is a post from Atrios regarding something "reported" on CNN today:

[Kelli] ARENA: Neither John Kerry nor the president has said troops pulled out of Iraq any time soon. But there is some speculation that al Qaeda believes it has a better chance of winning in Iraq if John Kerry is in the White House.

BEN VENZKE, INTELCENTER: Al Qaeda feels that Bush is, even despite casualties, right or wrong for staying there is going to stay much longer than possibly what they might hope a Democratic administration would.
There you go. We're fighting al Qaeda in Iraq and they think John Kerry is a wimp.
You can communicate your thoughts to Ms. Arena personally at:

I was so mad about this that I immediately sent a letter to Ms. Arena. This is what I had to say:


What you said on air about Al Qaeda wanting John Kerry to win because of the situation in Iraq is absolutely dispicable. If you have any journalistic integrity you would get on the air immediately and take it back and apoligize. Have you spoken with anyone from Al Qaeda to support this claim you made? Do you even know what Al Qaeda wants to see happen in Iraq?

Read a little about the terrorist situation pre-9/11 and you would see that the US invading a Muslim nation is the best possible thing that could happen for Al Qaeda. Did Bush do it to please Al Qaeda? No, but by your logic they should want him to win the election.

I am not one to get on press viewpoints often, you are entitled to a view. But you are not entitled to reports as fact something that is clearly just speculation (and probably speculation that you heard from some GOP political operative).

US Citizen and Patriot

This is just so utterly ridiculous. If there is one myth that is absolutely destroying our Democracy it is the idea that Al Qaeda wants John Kerry to win, or that appeasement is somehow an option either party is talking about. We are in a situation now akin to sticking a needle in someone's eye and then being accused of backing down if someone says, "Maybe we should stop doing that." Bush's policies are not fighting terrorism, they are enabling terrorism. And to advocate stopping that is not appeasment it is just plain smart. I posted a comment to Kevin Drum's board the other day that is relevant here, which I want to put up now:

As Richard Clarke said, the US invading a Muslim country is the wildest dream of Al Qaeda. Do you think Al Qaeda did what they did because they wanted to be left alone? They want this war, and we are giving them everything they wanted: US troops in Muslim nations, US troops abusing and torturing Muslim prisoners, US troops fighting battles in Muslim cities.

But regardless of all that, Ashcroft should be impeached for saying that stuff. If he wants to say that, fine, but don't do it as the f'in Attorney General! Quit and run a campaign or get back to what your job is supposed to be. In case you need a reminder, it has to do with enforcing the laws passed by Congress and maintaining liberty for the American people, but I guess you really don't give a crap about that.

If there is a bright side to all this absolute ugliness it is that we might shine a bright light on all that is wrong with the view that Bush is actually doing the right things to fight terrorism. I would hope that most Americans realize that either side claiming that if their opponents win than the terrorists win is an absurd stance that mocks the American people's ability to make a judgement about who their leadership should be. If this line of attack on John Kerry does anything other than create a backlash against the President than I am going to be very dissappointed in Americans.

As we try to bring Democracy to Iraq it is important that we respect it at home. To me arguments like this, especially when coming from the Attorney General, are akin to using the Constitution to wipe your ass. I am so frustrated with the way American federal democracy works that I almost cannot bear to look at this stuff any more. If stuff like this continues I think that unheard of things like General Strikes in major US cities are not uncalled for. We are having our rights as citizens stripped from us by this kind of rhetoric and it is tragic. It might be time for the Wolverines to remind us what freedom is really all about. (Yeah...I knew a Red Dawn reference would cheer me up).

Christopher Hitchens is delusional...

The Slate has a collection of writers who seem to have some kind of reputation as not GOP hacks, when that is really all they are. First on that list is, of course, Mickey Kaus of the Kaus Files (no link, unreadable crap only available there). But also on that list is Christopher Hitchens. Now I don't know what made any of these people journalist authorities on anything. And I would guess that 99.5% of the American public is with me on that. I am only judging these people on what I have seen on the Slate over the last few years.

Hitchens really out-does himself in his piece, "Ahmed and Me" about what a great guy Ahmed Chalabi is. Now if you want to defend Chalabi, that is fine. But this defense is so weak and riven with holes that I want to highlight it just to point out how completely bankrupt the arguments for anything that we did in Iraq are. First, Hitchens seems to like Chalabi because he can speak at lenghth about a variety of people and topics. Fine, the guy is smart. Unlike President Bush Chalabi's critics don't call him stupid, they call him a con-man. Sounds like being smart is not exactly going to win over any critics yet.

Then he moves on to the reasons why people are jumping on him now. Hitchens writes:

"Even if you assume the worst to be true—that the INC's "defectors" were either mistaken or were conscious, coached fabricators—the fact remains that the crucial presentation of the administration's case on WMD and terrorism was made at the United Nations by Secretary of State Colin Powell, with CIA Director George Tenet sitting right behind him, after those two men most hostile to Chalabi had been closeted together."

OK, so the argument is that because Powell and Tenet believed Chalabi that he must be telling the truth. Well, no. The fact is that Chalabi's supporters in the adminstration won the upper hand in a bureacratic show-down and that Powell and Tenet went along as loyal servants of the President. Heck, we even know that the President did not take Powell's council regarding going to war in Iraq. So just because a lot of people believe a lie does not make it true.

The same goes for the rest of Hitchens argument, namely that a lot of people were fooled about Iraqi WMD, namely France, Germany and Hans Blix. Well, not exactly. They were not convinced enough about the threat to go to war. They also were believing US intellignece, something that will probably not happen as easily in the future thanks to President Bush. We were a trusted leader of the free world in 2001 and 2002. Now we are not.

There is also degrees. While Bush adminstration officials were talking about nuclear material and mushroom clouds, most of the world was talking about stockpiles of chemical weapons. These are totally different, and anytime people say that Bushies and the rest of the world were in agreement on the threat posed by Iraq they are lying.

But the last straw for me was this:
As to the accusation that Chalabi has endangered American national security by slipping secrets to Tehran, I can only say that three days ago, I broke my usual rule and had a "deep background" meeting with a very "senior administration official." This person, given every opportunity to signal even slightly that I ought to treat the charges seriously, pointedly declined to do so. I thought I should put this on record."

This is some kind of joke right? This entire piece must be a hoax? Some "senior adminstration official" said it wasn't true, even off the record. Has Hitchens been paying any attention to the news? Doesn't he know that for three years now the adminstration has been using "off the record" briefings to just give out the standard spin and make reporters thing it is more true because of some mistaken belief that these guys would ever tell the truth. If all this "senior adminstration official" was going to do is defend the actions of the President than why not do it on the record? My god, I have a great bridge that I want to sell Hitchens because clearly he is the most gullible person on the planet.

Thursday, May 27, 2004

A couple of weeks ago, I suggested that John McCain or Chuck Hagel might make quite the vice presidential candidate for John Kerry.

Maybe I'm fooling myself; maybe they both are on the opposite side of too many issues from me. But I can't help but notice that they (along with fellow Republican Senator Richard Lugar, who gave an excellent speech last week at my future grad school) are among the few adults in Washington right now.

Ironically, even as my disdain for Bush has grown over the last couple of years -- to the point where nearly every Republican misstep brings me a sense of satisfaction -- my patience for the naked partisanship on display in Washington has completely vanished. (Maybe this has something to do with living abroad, I'm not sure.)

I mean, our country has some pretty big problems facing it right now. Is it too much to ask for our leaders to STFU and work together to develop a consensus on how to tackle at least the two or three biggest issues? And therein lies the principal attraction for me of Kerry convincing a Republican to be his running mate (the others being that maybe some ideas about free trade and good old fashioned fiscal restraint might rub off on him). While getting Bush the hell out of office would be a major step forward, how much will things really improve in the next administration if Republicans continue to prioritize political victory over responsible stewardship of the country?

Mark Schmitt has a very interesting essay on how the Senate has lost much of its deliberative character over the past decade. He ends on a hopeful note: that these changes are largely due to decisions made by Frist, and there's no reason they can't be reversed at some point in the future. Perhaps. But now that the Democrats have seen how to effectively marginalize the minority, why do we think that they'll voluntarily relinquish power when they're next in the majority?

Tuesday, May 25, 2004

An interesting discussion...

There is a thread that gets away from the usual political nonsense (or mostly away from it) at Dan Drezner's blog. The topic started with Dan's thoughts on Vermont's move to ban Wal-Marts from the state. Now this is really in my wheelhouse in terms of when I actually know what I am talking about. So I could not resist.

I weighed in with this comment:

I readily acknowledge the arguments why Wal-Mart is good for a state and why historical preservation is a reactionary movement that fundamentally is not interested in issues of equity.

But I think there is something to be said for a place maintaining an identity that is unique from every other place. I am not sure if the entire state of Vermont is the right size for this kind of project, but perhaps a single county in Vermont might be, or a collection of towns that currently lack large stores.

Of course there are the dangers that that place will just become a tourist attracton that will fundamentally destroy the historical preservation aspects of the project in the first place.

From an economic point of view though the decision is not so cut and dry. A very large portion of the state's GDP in Vermont comes from tourism. That tourism is based in part (and it is difficult to determine how much) on small towns, quaint shops, and unobstructed views of valleys. Wal-Mart threatens all of those things. It might actually be a smart economic move in the state of Vermont to make sure that they protect the life-blood of their local economy, tourism, and thus pay marginally higher prices for basic goods.

Every economic development decision has to be understood in the unique context of the situation it is being made. I am not sure that this is the correct decision for Vermont, but there are reasons why it might be. I also would acknowledge that a hard-headed argument about the costs and benefits of Wal-Mart is one that opponents have not been eager to get in because of fear of how it would turn out. However if there is any place where they have a chance of winning the argument it would be in Vermont.

Such an analysis would not be easy.

That merited this thoughtful reply by someone else (a conservative who is a pretty hard-core Bush supporter, but not totally off the deep end):

I acknowledge your broader argument (stated much the same thing myself), but your specific point about tourist dollars being important raises a counterargument in my own mind. In a nutshell, this involves WHO gets to determine the desirable qualities of the "community" and WHO gets the economic payoff therefrom. If the choice for a working Vermonter is between working in a mom and pop store (or a quaint B and B, etc.) vs. working for a big multinational--where is she/he better off? I'm inclined to say the latter. Moreover, as Vermont is NOT its own country, but one state in a larger union, can we cede special rights to current residents there (we'll take the ugly Walmarts, you take the corner stores, we'll spend holidays with you, you shop big with us) at the long-term expense of FUTURE (potential) residents? This Vermont model of development seems to allow little scope for entrepreneurship altogether, but especially of the new immigrant/person of color variety. If we allow Vermont to cast itself in amber, are we enshrining a 19th century racial balance there, while the rest of the country changes and grows?

Food for thought, is it not?

Knowing what I know about this person I knew the racial argument was weak. Conservatives bring up race when they think they can slur an opposing view, they rarely bring it up when it actually matters to improving the lives of minorities. But there are some interesting points to reply to, so I did:

Food for thought indeed. I agree that preserving the past is a tricky thing when there are elements of the past that are rather distasteful. I am reminded of the classic example written about the East End of London by (the other) Jane Jacobs. Her story was how the effort to preserve the Spitalfields area of London was discrimination against the growing Bangladeshi community in the area. It highlights the tensions in preservation of the past, even if that is the name of remembering past immigrant groups. All I can say about that is one has to be careful towards what end historical preservation is being used towards. I think that racial elements are largely lacking in Vermont, at least right now.

As for the economics, I think you position the choice quite clearly. Is it better to work for a multi-national corporation or a Mom and Pop store? In the short-term I might agree that the multi-national is a better situation. However an environment with lots of small business is inherently more competitive locally than a market dominated by a single business. The prices might be higher in spite of the competition, but the competition opens up many doors for new entrepreneurship.

I would definitely argue that a fragmented marketplace encourages entrepreneurship more than a consolidated market. In a Wal-Mart model all the distribution is dominated by a single company that will not do business with a competitor. However in a fragmented market there are likely to be one or many distributors who are ready to sell to any new business.

Finally you put forward that Vermont is but one state in the Union and they should not be allowed to make the choice they are making. I think actually they are totally allowed to make the choice, which is why we have states, and are not just a single nation-state. Vermont is making a competitive choice here. It might end up being the wrong choice, but it is a choice they are making. Now if they say, "No Wal-Marts" that is wrong. But if they say, "Maximum square footage of retail establishments is 25,000 sq. ft" that is fine by me. They are allowed to regulate their own market. Almost every place does this with everything from zoning regulations to licencing barbers. There is certainly an argument against all state regulations of the market, but I think almost all reasonable economists agree that setting rules for the market is neccesary to having that market function.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

My worthless opinions...

The Simpsons this week was all about the media. I hope you saw it, but if not read this article about it. Anyway, blogging reminds me of everyone having their own newspaper; free to distribute their diseased opinions as widely as they want.

But more important than that, I learned that you can say "shite" on network television, and when it is said by Groundskeeper Willie it just sounds a whole lot like saying shit. God bless the freedom of speech.

I send letters...

This is a good column on Slate from the consistently excellent Daniel Gross. However, I did wish to get some clarification on his conclusion "Elliot Spitzer is a Wimp". So I sent him a letter. I will let my readers know if I get a response.


Great work with Money Box. Definitely one of my favorite columns on the web. I do want to ask you something about your recent column on Spitzer. It seems like he is doing the best with a bad situation. As you say, it is hard to prosecute these cases, they are tremendously expensive for the state, they require spending resources that could be chasing other frauds, and the chances of success are low, especially given the lack of a law officially outlawing the practice.

Given all that it seems like the blame for people not going to jail lies not with Spitzer but with the federal authorities and the Congress who should be passing laws that make these things illegal, raise the penalties for illegal actions, and make it easier to get convictions in complicated white collar crime cases.

I am curious about your thoughts on the relative responsibility of the three branches of government here in making sure that our financial system functions with integrity.


Dept. of Unintended Ironies...

The Bush Administration has pursued an invasion of Iraq and all that goes with that. At the same time they are still hard core supporters of the NRA in the US. That makes this passage from an article in the Boston Globe somewhat ironic:

Good as the program is, the US soldiers, most of whom have spent only the past two months in Iraq, say they fear that it is unlikely to make a big dent in that arsenal.

"It's going to take this generation dying out before people begin to change," said First Sergeant Micah Long. "Maybe in 30 years people will figure out that not everybody needs a weapon to live."

Well, based on the experience in the US I think it is going to take a lot longer to figure out that you don't need a weapon to live. Of course, maybe we are just the slow kids on the world stage, not ready to face the fact that guns kill people.

Local politics...

In the category of all politics being local, the big story in Boston this week was the road and transit closures announced for the Democratic National Convention. Basically they are trying to close everything around the Fleet Center, which includes the major highway through Boston, the train station that brings in commuters from north of the city, two major transit lines, and all the roads around the Fleet Center.

Now the story in Boston is comparing the draconian policies being imposed on our city with the policies that are being talked about for New York City. This story will have very little impact on the Presidential election because the odds of Bush winning either New York or Massachusetts are miniscule. But it will have an impact in Boston politics. It appears that in chasing every politicians dream of a big event, Mayor Menino has committed a huge blunder and is going to pay a big political price.

In a box...

One reason that Bush is likely to lose the election in 2004 is that he has painted himself in a corner. In the modern competitive world of business the most important thing is to be flexible. You have to be flexible to adjust to the changing strategy and tactics of your opponent and to the changing needs and desires of the market. The situation is similar in politics where you need to respond to the choices of your opponent, the feelings of the electorate, and the situation in the world.

In his infinite genius though Bush has chosen as a core message of his campaign, "Steady Leadership in times of change." For details check out this piece from the Boston Globe today. Well that is basically announcing inflexibility. When things change, as they are in Iraq, he is at a loss to choose new, better positions because it would undermine his core campaign message. Now I am sure that Bush is going to be able to pull off marginal changes in his policies along the way, and spin things in a way that makes it seem like he is not changing a thing. But ultimately this puts Bush in a bind, and will hurt his chances of winning the election.

On the other hand Kerry is a "flip-flopper." And really this is a good thing. On Friday the news broke that Kerry might not accept the nomination at the convention. This is an example of how flexibility can be a valuable thing.

Saturday, May 22, 2004

Political Power...

Combining the thoughts in my last two posts, I am starting to think about the real source of political power in the US. It truly does come from the people. Now there are a variety of ways that this happens, and only one of them is voting.

Reading the Ygelsias and Atrios comments I realized that most people see the national political scene as entirely separate from what is happening in the streets of America. But that is really not how it works. Right now Bush is getting himself into deep trouble. He has been able to survive by creating an image of power and certainty that has not been questioned by those inclined to trust him. That is eroding.

A friend of mine last week made a very good point that Bush has managed to take actions that have pissed off everyone. My friend is a Democrat, but her family members are not. Her sister got sick of Bush when he announced that he was supporting a constitutional amendment. Her father got fed up with Bush when he ran up a huge deficit. Another friend of mine who identifies himself as Republican is sick of how his party is being run by the Religious Right. His line is that he is feeling marginalized and that is hard to do when he is a white male in America.

I think that as all people get together and talk about these things, and I think they are talking about these things in groups of people that they trust, they are going to start to get comfortable questioning Bush's ability to be our President. You can only look the other way for so long. Republicans will have a different flavor to their dissatification of George Bush, but it is going to be a real concern for them.

Party loyalty is real. But Party loyalty is ultimately to the Party and not to person. Bush has been able to act for too long as the embodiment of the Republican Party. As his popularity declines that is not going to be sustainable. And once that loyalty to Bush is undermined the whole thing is going to come crashing down around him. Did you know that when Bush went to the Capital to rally the GOP Congressional Delegations that he did not take questions?

I don't care who you are, the Congress is made up of people who think pretty highly of themselves as well. They want to at least be listened to when things are not going well. The Congress will continue to be well-supplied with talking points, but I am sure that many of them also wonder where Iraq and the War on Terrorism is headed.

These people are all going to be spending less time in Washington and more time at home in the coming months. Their days at home are spent talking to people and answering questions. Iraq is going to be on their minds as much as anyone else. There will be some who will blindly follow, but there will be many who will realize that their personal political stock is going to be harmed by association with Bush.

Politicians are not in the business because they want to serve other people. It is a highly competitive world, and they want to see their side win, and see themselves win. There is a very strong incentive to go out on your own. This has been held in check by Bush because he has been able to sell such a strong message of loyalty to his party and to the American voters. But there is always the pressure for that to break.

We are already starting to see the cracks, but they are going to come much clearer in the coming months. Any GOP congress person with a competitive race is going to be asking themselves about what is best for their self-interest. And I think a lot of them are going to realize that changing the leadership is going to be right move for them.

All of this is unprecedented, and I am sure there are thousands of barriers to this happening, but the pressure is going to be there. And there will be the example as well. Blair is going to be removed by his party at some point soon. He is just too much of a liability. In England they always run more as members of the Party than as individuals. However, in George Bush's America that is increasingly the case. He has not united America, he has divided America. And it would be ironic if it were the very loyal party system that he has helped create which was ultimately his downfall.

Great stuff...

As screwed up as national politics is in our country, the real strength of our democracy, and any democracy for that matter, is at the local level. I just found this week's diary on Slate that is written by a Los Angeles City Coucil Member. It is really facinating stuff. This guy, and thousands of other people like him, are working with people all the time, working to make their lives better through the power of government, and working to make sure that government doesn't get in the way of people's lives too much either.

It is really a facinating diary to just get a feel for the kind of things that fill the many hours that he is working everyday. He represents 250,000 people, making his district half the size of a Congressional District, and I would bet that the decisions he is involved with have a much greater influence on the lives of his constiuents than the congressperson. It is great to see the strength of America so clearly conveyed. You don't have to read the entire diary to see what I mean, but the entire things is facinating.

About time...

If I am a GOP senator with an ounce of Presidential ambition I am loudly and repeatedly criticizing President Bush on his conduct of the War on Terrorism and the situation in Iraq. The blood is in the water and there is a real opportunity to seize leadership of the Republican Party. The crazies are digging their own graves by the day right now. The House is a hard place to step out of line, but Senators don't have the same set of interests. And let's face it, after the experience of Spector in that primary in PA, you can see how much President Bush's support counts for among GOP voters when they are making the choice between two Republicans.

So I would expect to see more stories like this. And hopefully the Democrats can take enough advantage of this to make sure that the numerous scandels circulating around the Administration can be pursued with the seriousness that they merit.

Of course there will be Senators who make the other bet, and their headlines will be like this. I would like to see the platform that includes running on the right of American troops to torture. I think that even middle America would be a little uncomfortable with some of the soundbites that are coming out of being President Bush's attack dog these days.

Note: After writing this post I read this post by Matthew Yglesias and the comments. Both are worth reading if you are interested in this issue.

Another Note: This line is pretty common around blogworld today. Atrios has a post on it, and his comments are decidedly less thoughtful and more partisan (i.e. not as informative to read)

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

A long time...

I overlooked this a few days ago, but May 16th was the one year anniversary of this blog. I wish I could say that I have come along way in that time, but that would be a lie. I guess I have just become angrier. I think whoever says venting helps get rid of anger is wrong. It just makes it worse. I was going to celebrate the one year anniversary by not posting ever again, but I think I will try to keep up my current pace. The expected end date for this blog now is Election Day 2004. I will be passed out drunk in the street (one way or another).

If you are curious to read my first post, here is a link

Abuse of Power...

Scandals come in all sizes in this Bush administration. The latest is that their Medicare videos have been ruled to be covert propaganda. When can we look at the sum total of acheivement of this President and just agree that he was the worst ever and put it all behind us? Probably a long time...sad, very sad.

More ranting...

In response to a Kevin Drum post, here is another rant. We are so screwed.

I knew a guy last year who was from Lebanon. He was a Christian, grew up during the civil war, and was basically a communist (not exactly, but definitely believed that history is a story of conflict that will eventually be resolved). He was also fiercely smart.

Back in those days I was a supporter of Bush's war, and so was my friend. The logic was very different though. He wanted to see the US invade Iraq because it was the logical step the US needed to take to maintain its hegemony. He wanted to see that happen because only by not moderating its actions would the US bring upon the conflict that would allow people to see the US power for what it was.

Now I pretty vehemently disagree with this guy, but he was definitely on to something. I can't believe how much hatred and distrust there is towards the US ideals that I grew up valueing. Things like peace, freedom, equality, liberty...all that stuff. If you viewed the US through the lens of Iraq what would you conclude? Pretty scary stuff really. Thank you Mr. President!

The second biggest threat...

Anyone with half a brain can see that George Bush is the number one threat to the American way of life. But a close second is Ralph Nader. I cannot beleive how much of a moron or an egomaniac this man is. He is delusional and is playing with our country's future. Please just go back to worrying about exploding gas tanks and whatever else he did to get any kind of reputation as something more than a kook. Let the grown-ups take care of some serious business and get the hell out of the way!

A rant...

In response to about nothing on Drezner's blog I wrote the following rant. I am just mad and started venting. This is what I had to say:

I am a liberal.

I hate terrorists.

I hate George W. Bush because everything he does only helps the terrorists.

Seriously, if you think that Bush's overall policy direction is helping us defeat terrorists I want to you to take your fingers out of your ears and your head out of your ass.

Read Against All Enemies, which is as close as we have to a narrative of the rise of Al Qaeda through the 1990's. You will see that while mistakes were made before the threat of Al Qaeda was recongnized, after the threat was real Clinton did put this high on his agenda. Bush and Rice, and most of all Rumsfeld and Wolfowitz ignored the issue. They were in an old mindset of state-based actors and traditional threats.

That is not why 9/11 happenend, but it certainly contributed to the overall failure to recognize the problem and address it. However far greater wrongs have been committed in the last 18 months. We have managed to turn a fully deterred Iraq into a bees nest of enemies and a recruting video for Al Qaeda. It is truly a remarkable acheivement how in less than 3 years Bush has managed to turn the entire world against the US.

Remember how the world's heart went out to the US in the aftermath of 9/11. I remember. I was overseas and I felt the love that people had towards America. Now I think about what the response would be today and I want to cry. How we have been able to abandon all moral leadership in the world is beyond me. I don't think this was by design, because I doubt Bush's team could plan something to work so smoothly.

What is the current justification for the war in Iraq? I think it is that we were freeing the Iraqi people and creating democracy in the Middle East. Well, the people want us to leave, we are not making the country more stable, we are far from democracy, and in the process we have managed to harm our moral leadership in the world (want proof...how about the delayed release of the State Department's Human Rights report).

Now are we as bad as Sadaam or any other Arab dictator? Hell no! But is that really the standard we want to set for ourselves? We need to be better than the other guy, not a little better, but a lot better, and we are failing at that job.

OK, so what about the end of mass graves in Iraq you ask? Good, I am glad, but I wonder about the cost. Not the cost in terms of Billions of dollars that our government doesn't have, or the deaths and casulaties of our troops, but the cost of our moral standing in the world. We are the enemy as we have been before, but the intensity is so much greater. If we started the dominos falling in the Middle East they are falling on us.

Right now we are less safe from terrorism than we were before we invaded Iraq. And call me selfish, but I don't think that our version of "freeing" the Iraqi people from Sadaam is worth it.

Face it, the global economy depends on security. We are not building security but undermining it. We need new leadership, and now. Getting rid of Rumsfeld is a start, but really what we need is to throw all these people out and try to start again. So much has been broken, but Bush still thinks you can fix it all with a hammer.

I really don't give a crap if all you war freaks disagree with me. I just want our country to know how deeply we have been screwed by Bush and his team. Only after we face that truth can we start to fix all the problems that have been created.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

More later...

I will write more on this later, but I want to float the idea now of state sub-division as a way of putting more democracy in American Federal politics. I will explain more later after some research, but later might be a few days away.

How long...

How long will GWB still be our President. The current guess would have to be 8 months, but shorter is becoming more realistic by the day. There is so much news out there I will not even begin to summarize or list it all.

But check out this Slate column for another incredibly damning piece of news about how our country is being run by a bunch of selfish idiots.

Is there a reasonable person in the world who still wants Bush as the US President. Conservatives seem to do their best to not hide the fact they are reciting boilerplate when speaking about the President. Bill Kristol couldn't muster the will to fight the point made by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show that Bush has driven us into a ditch.

Our country is great and getting destroyed by a small group of bad apples. They actions and views of them do not reflect the hopes and dreams of the American people. I am talking not about a small group of Prison Guards, but the highest levels of our government. Throw the bums out, kick the to the curb and then maybe we can begin the healing process.

Thursday, May 13, 2004


Given the right odds (I would say about 10/1) I would place a bet for next President of the United States on "GOP Field".

I think GOP field should include John McCain and Colin Powell. I am not sure who else would be on the list.

Debunking the myths...

OK, John Kerry is not Bill Clinton and he is not George Bush. But that does not mean he is Al Gore either. I am talking of course of his personality. The media line on Kerry is that he is stiff and aloof. They don't come out and say this, rather they ask questions of his campaign staff and other Democrats like, "How are you going portray John Kerry so America doesn't think that he is stiff and aloof?"

Well, they just framed the perception of John Kerry. It is like asking Karl Rove, "How are you going to convince the American people that George Bush is not stupid because he was dropped on his head as a baby too many times?" It is not fair and not right. On something like personality the American people should be allowed to judge the candidate based on their appearance, rather than journos telling the people what to think about personality.

Why this really sticks in my craw (what the heck is a craw?) is that Kerry is not stiff or aloof. He is a tall, thoughtful man who has the demeanor of a responsible leader. The Oxblog writes today after seeing the latest Kerry ads for the first time:

"Anyhow, the good news for Kerry is that he sounds very presidential. He has a reputation for being wooden and stand-offish, but I think he comes across as both personable and thoughtful in his ads. He seems like someone you could trust."

That's the thing, the reputation is not true. It is a label that gets stuck on him. I hope that as America gets to know John Kerry they will make the same judgement. The media has been wrong about Kerry in the past, and hopefully this will be another example of how they continue to misjudge a man who has the experience and the intellect that we need in our time of crisis.

While I would likely vote for an inflatable dummy in order to get George Bush's hands off the levers of power, John Kerry's not the worst candidate ever. I mean, people were talking seriously about Gray Davis just two years ago.

But reading Wesley Clark's essay in the current issue of Washington Monthly makes me wonder what could have been. Here's a guy with a great deal of impressive and relevant experience and a thoughtful and nuanced view of how to proceed in the Middle East (certainly the most important issue of this election), and we tossed him aside -- why? I have no idea.

I'm still pulling for John McCain (or Chuck Hagel? I don't know enough about him, but I like what I've seen) as Kerry's Vice Presidential candidate, but he could certainly do a lot worse than the General.

If you haven't read the article, read it now.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Fighting wars...

I can honestly say that I have lost my appetite for the war in Iraq. At this point I think that our mission is so spoiled that we would be better off just declaring victory, taking Sadaam to the Hague for a trial, and getting the hell out of Dodge. I didn't always think that way, but honestly I think that each day we are in Iraq we are doing more harm than good. We have already screwed things up pretty bad, but each attempt to make things better only leads to more harm being done.

I am also starting to think that you can't win a war when you are trying not to fight the citizens. We went into Iraq to liberate the citizens of Iraq. Our enemy was supposedly one man, Saddam Hussein. But Sadaam was out of the picture for a long time and we are still fighting people in Iraq. I don't think the American people will support this kind of war because we were never told who our enemy is. We thought we were going to fight Saddam, so what is going on now.

We also can't fight a war against terror. Terror is not a person or a group, it is a practice. You can't fight a practice with a real war with guns and killing. We can defeat Al Qaeda in a war. We can defeat Sadaam in a war. We can defeat anyone we decide to in a war. But we need to define who the hell we are fighting in this war.

Bush has made it a point to not define who we are fighting in this war. I am not going to speculate who he thinks we are fighting and who the enemy is, but clearly whoever it is he can't just come out and say it. According to Bush we are fighting "the terrorists." Well, who the heck are the terrorists? Where are they? Who are their friends and who are their enemies?

Without defining our enemy it is clear that lots of people are assuming the role of our enemy. Right now it seems like a good portion of the Iraqi people are assuming they are our enemy and are fighting back. This clearly is not a good thing. People all over the Arab world are assuming that we are fighting them, and now they are our enemy.

Our leadership has failed in some remarkable ways. We are at war and I don't even know against who. However somehow we have managed to piss off so much of the world that people are lining up to be our enemies.

Great paragraph...

I struggle with words to describe how appalled I am at the current situation of America in the world. But Josh Marshall is a better writer than me, and this is what he wrote about the comments of a Senator yesterday at the hearings:

But here you have Jim Inhofe lumbering out of his cave and on to the stage, arguing that we can do whatever we want because we're America. Inhofe's America is one that is glutted on pretension, cut free from all its moral ballast, and hungry to sit atop a world run only by violence. Lady Liberty gets left with fifty bucks, a sneer, a black eye, and the room to herself for the couple hours left before check out.

It is that last line that really gets to how I feel our nation is being treated by the current version of the GOP. I am seeing signs that many thinking members of the GOP are realizing their party is getting ruined by the current leadership. Hopefully they can coordinate and muster the political skills neccesary to avoid the US becoming a fascist regime. In the meantime I am going to look into what it takes to get Australian citizenship.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

I'm feeling generous today, so let's dish out some credit to people I don't agree with too often:

First, congratulations to the Bush Administration for brokering an environmental rule change that all sides seem pretty happy about. I'm no expert on the science, but I'm not going to argue with the NRDC if they think this rule change will greatly reduce emission of air pollutants. Now, maybe the Bushies should take another look at New Source Review and the CAFE standards...

The remarkable thing about this rule change is that the Bush Administration actually consulted groups on all sides of the issue, and even took their concerns into account. Amazing what a little governance by consensus can accomplish.

Second, congratulations to David Brooks for finally penning a moderately thought-provoking column. In the end, it's not entirely clear what his point is, but you have to walk before you can run! Here's hoping he settles down after a pitiful start and gives us another reason to read the Times Op-Ed page. Because MoDo, Friedman and Safire just aren't doing it right now.

Monday, May 10, 2004

Wrong again...

I just can't seem to get this right. According to President Bush:

``One basic difference between democracies and dictatorships is that free countries confront such abuses openly and directly,''

And here I was thinking that the difference was that democracies don't abuse people in the first place. I am such a fool!

A Reminder...

As we are reading the papers about all the horrible things that occured in Iraqi prisons under Bush and Rumsfeld's watch (I thought the torture rooms were closed?) let's just remember that this is hardly the first scandel or failure of the Bush Administration. See if you recall:

The Valerie Plame Investigation - where is that today? When are the people who revealed the identity of a covert CIA operative trying to track WMD around the world going to be punished? Has anyone been held accountable?

The missing Weapons of Mass Destruction - Remember in January when there was an admission by David Kay that perhaps there were no weapons after all? Wasn't there supposed to be a panel appointed to figure out how the F**K we could end up invading another country on false pretenses? Has anyone been held accountable?

The 9/11 Commission - Remember how all those people died and our nation was put into a state of shock? Remember how apparently there were some warnings that something was about to happen? What happenend with that investigation? Has anyone been held accountable?

The Medicare cost deception - Remember how the adminstration wanted the prescription drug problem to go away? They kind of misled Congress on how much their plan would cost, and later an analyst revealed that the $150 BILLION cost overrun revealed a month after the vote was known ahead of time. Has anyone been held accountable?

You know what I think, but it is high time the American people wake up and hold everyone in this adminstration accountable, starting at the top.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


I often wish that America would hold its leaders accountable for their failures. Now it is time for me to be held accountable. I am going to review my English Football Season preview post and see how accurate I was. You can read the original here.

First, Chelski will not contend for the title. They will fight it out with Liverpool for third place.

Result: Chelsea is going to finish second. No one really contended for the title except Arsenal. Liverpool is fighting for fourth place.

Chelski will however make it farther in the Champions League than Arsenal who are destined for a very awkward pre-Quarters wash-out. This will lead to hand-wringing in North London, and a realisation that a team with a 38,000 seat stadium can't compete in Europe. At Stamford Bridge it will be all smiles until Chelsea is eliminated in the quarters, a respectable performance that will not impress Roman enough and he is quoted in the papers asking why his team failed.

Result: Chelsea did actually beat Arsenal in the Champions League. Arsenal almost washed out early, but made it to the quarters. Chelsea washed out this week in the Semis, throwing away a golden opportunity to capture European glory. As for reaction, I think the Highbury faithful were pleased enough with the still undefeated league season to not get too upset.

Portsmouth will face certain relegation, contending for the worst record ever. I say this just because I don't like the sound of their name, not based on any particular knowledge of the team.

Result: Portsmouth is staying up. No one contended for worst record ever.

Owen will miss a month with some injury and Liverpool will struggle without him. Kewell will not save the day, but will have his best season ever playing alongside Owen and Gerrard.

Result: Owen did miss time. I am not not sure how one would rate Kewell's season.

Shearer will finally be proved human and Newcastle will be in a battle with Everton, Blackburn, and the surprising Charlton Athletic in the battle for European places.

Result: Shearer has the third most goals in the Premiership. Newcastle is battling for a Champions League spot. Everton has been mediocre on their good days. Blackburn was fighting relegation for most of the year but were saved by a late surge. Charleton is a surprising contender for a place in Europe, however it doesn't look like it was meant to be.

Fulham will sign Claudio Reyna but that will not be enough to save them from a bottom of the table battle with Bolton, Leeds, and Wolves. It is too early to say if they will be able to pull it out.

Result: Reyna went to Man City, Fulham had a great year. Bolton is in 7th place. Leeds and Wolves are going to be relegated, along with Leicester.

Man United will lose a game in August and every paper in England will question if it was mistake to sell Beckham and Veron. By January either Kleberson, Ronaldo (not that one), or Djemba-Djemba will be playing very, very well and everyone will forget about Veron. No one will ever forget about Beckham, and when Real and Man U face off in the Champions League Semis it will be revenge for Becks and humiliation for Fergie as Becks is allowed by the band of stars to show his stuff.

Result: Veron sucked. I don't know what people said about Beckham except for the stuff about having an affair. Man U washed out of the Champs League early, but just one round before Real Madrid did. None of the pick-ups for Man U worked out that well.

I will regret in a few hours half of these predictions, and wish that I wrote them after having a cup of coffee.

Result: Correct!

The good news...

There is no good news in politics or world affairs. Thus sport must take a central role in what I think about today.

Yesterday brought happiness to QPR fans worldwide as the Rangers earned promotion to Division 1. That's right, "We're going up!" Come on you R's. I got to see a few matches early this season and the R's were clearly the class of Division 2 at that time. They did stumble throughout the season, but were able to clinch the second automatic promotion spot on the final day of the season with an away win at Sheffield Wednesday. (aside: Is there a cooler name in Sport than Sheffield Wednesday? Why are they named after a day of the week? I have no idea, but it sure breaks the monotony of all the teams called Something United, or Something Athletic). In any event I am already plotting a trip back to Loftus Road for a match next season. I am thinking a match-up with West Ham would be absolutely huge.

The other great sporting news is the continued run of the Mighty St. Kilda Saints. (as a flip side of Sheffield United the Saints are cursed with the most obvious nickname in all of sport. It would be better if they were the St. Kilda Yuppies, St. Kilda Jews, or St. Kilda Heroin Dealers to better reflect the diverse character of the area.) The Saints have started the season undefeated, their latest victory coming as a huge win in Perth against the Dockers. It is generally acknowledged in the AFL that winning on the West Coast against either the West Coast Eagles or the Fremantle Dockers is hard. The best teams struggle to get victories out there, and conversely those teams struggle to get wins on their regular trips east. But the Saints won, and won big. This means they ended last season on a run, won the pre-season Cup competition, and have started the season with seven straight wins.

From the astounding to the boring. Michael Schumacher won his fifth straight Grand Prix to start the season today. I don't get to watch F1 this year, but it really doesn't seem like I am missing much. Ferrari's dominance is unquestioned this year, and it seems to have sucked all the drama out of the still young season.

I also wanted to note the long article on the India-Pakistan Cricket matches in Sports Illustrated this week. It is extremely rare to see this kind of coverage in mainstream US publications, but I have to say that SI comes through with the novel more often than not. I am sad that I don't currently have an SI subscription, but I will read the article before too long.

Right now the blogger ad at the top of Yankeeblog is hawking bumper stickers saying "Iraq: I Told You So". Because nothing makes friends and influences people quite like poking your finger in their eye.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

One of the enduring memories of my youth is of the summer the locusts came. Now, seventeen years later, they're back, and I'm very happy to be 10,000 miles away.

If you haven't lived through the Brood X cicadas, you probably can't appreciate just how disruptive the infestation is. I was ten years old during the last plague, and I had the misfortune of living at the time in an old neighborhood right in the middle of cicada country. My yard was a perfect breeding ground, with a number of stately old oaks and elms surrounded by plenty of grass from which the hateful insects could emerge.

It's hard to convey exactly how many of the damn things there were. A conservative estimate is that there were about 10 thousand billion of them within a block of my house. The worst part about them was that they couldn't just sit on the ground or buzz about happily in the corner of your yard; no, they had to clumsily lurch at your face, bouncing off your nose and landing in your hair. And I still have nightmares about the noise. One cicada sounds like an overloud and grating grasshopper; ten billion of them make your ears bleed.

The good news is that they don't live very long; the bad news is that when they die, their rotting carcasses sit around on the ground for a few weeks, letting loose a stench almost as bad as the enormous pile of garbage down the street from my house here in Kabul. (And let me tell you: any time you start comparing your quality of life to Afghanistan, you've already lost.)

There's nothing good about the experience.

Despite all this, cicadas are pretty interesting from a biological standpoint. There's a good article about them in the current issue of The Economist that discusses why they only appear every 17 years. In what seems like a blow to intelligent designers everywhere, there's a splinter group breaking off from Brood X that appears to be adapting due to evolutionary pressure.

Total Frustration...

I have been quiet on the blog this week because I have been traveling. But I have spent a fair bit of time reading and listening to the radio. Obviously a lot of what I read and heard was about Iraq. I have also been reading Against all Enemies by Richard Clarke.

With all that is going on my only conclusion is that our foreign policy since Bush took office has been nothing short of a total disaster. I think the most distasterous myth in America today is that Republicans are some how "better" on foreign policy issues than Democrats. A comparison of Clinton and Bush the Failure shows this to be a total lie. Sure Clinton was not perfect, but Bush has been a disaster. Somehow he has managed to turn the entire world against us. This is disturbing. We have soldiers dying and killing everyday. Only a fool would view this as a way to peace.

Iraq is a disaster on all fronts. We were told it was because of the terrorist threat that Sadaam posed. This was wrong. Not only was he effectively deterred from all terrorist activities, he didn't even have the Weapons of Mass Destruction that were so hyped leading up to the war. Then we were told it was to bring peace to the Middle East through some crazy "Domino" theory. The people in the Middle East hate the US more than ever. We were going to bring democracy to the Middle East. Instead we re-opened the torture rooms with the torturers wearing a different uniform. We were supposed to put Iraq on the path to peace and prosperity. Instead people are dying in the streets and economic activity is limited by the constant explosions and fighting.

We had an enemy called Al Qaida. They did a horrible thing and we finally moved to destroy them. In the process we have raised their profile, made them heros to a good part of the world, and gave them more recruiting material then they ever dreamed they would get. Osama Bin Laden must love Bush and his incompetent band of cronies. What has occurred since 9/11 probably is beyond Osama's wildest dreams. Anyone who thinks otherwise has no clue what these people want. They want a fight, they want to be confronted on the battlefield. Laboring anonymously in caves with limited money and under danger of assassination is the way to treat these people. Each battle leads to more recruits than deaths. We are losing, and I am afraid for the United States of America.

And whose fault is this? George W. Bush. The whole Rumsfeld must resign thing shows what a weak leader Bush is. What would the result be if Rumsfeld was gone? Who could possibly take on this job of peddling lies and ignoring reality? We totally screwed up in fighting terrorism prior to 9/11. The evidence of failure is the destruction of those towers and our peace. But did anyone take any blame for that? No. Has anyone ever been held accountable? No. We screwed up the intelligence on Iraq. Whose fault is that? No one's apparently. The occupation of Iraq has been screwed up beyond belief. Whose fault? Again, no one. There is absolutely no accountability for the miserable failures of this administration. Ultimately the responsibility lies with Bush.

But only now are the American people realizing we are being incompetent led down the path to disaster. I hope that enough people realize the extent of these failures by November. Otherwise we might deserve our fate. Democracy depends on the good sense of the people. If we as a people cannot recognize failure when it is on the front pages of our papers everyday perhaps we deserve our fate as a failed world leader. Ignorance is not bliss, it is the road to disaster. There was a time when I scoffed at the idea of "America, love it or leave it." But today I think that advice might be valuable. The strength of America is our innovation, our entrepreneurial spirit, our idealism. All those things are being crushed in the leading urban centers in America today. New York, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Austin. The people in these places get it. But somehow their voices are not heard in our nation today. The engine of our nation's prosperity has been concentrated out of political relevance. The resentment of these engines of prosperity fuels the fool-hardy support of our failed administration.

There are lots of people, probably a majority of people in America, who recognize that this election matters more than any other, and that we need to get rid of George W. Bush. I only hope that in our skewed electoral system those voices can be heard this time. And I hope that we are able to learn the lessons of this dark period in our history and never again come so close to destruction of the American dream.

I'm not a freedom fry munching France hater, but I felt not a little satisfaction this morning when my French-Algerian colleague used "French" as a synonym for "pretentious". Ha!

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the inability of the Democratic leadership to enunciate a coherent foreign policy. Sitting here in Afghanistan, I’m not well-positioned to figure out why this is the case, but I’ve started to wonder whether it might have something to do with the neoconservatives’ co-option of historically Democratic ideals, such as the spread of democracy and defense of human rights around the world. It’s hard to effectively oppose a policy, after all, when it’s only a few degrees different from yours.

I was generally supportive of President Bush’s campaign against Saddam up until a month or six weeks before the war started; in my opinion, Bush ably demonstrated a clear and convincing justification for the need to confront Hussein – with or without the backing of the UN Security Council. But while I had little quibble with his stated reasons for going to war, two things ultimately turned me against it: timing and resources.

Despite the best efforts of the White House and 10 Downing Street to massage the intelligence, it had become pretty clear by February 2003 that Saddam did not pose an immediate threat to anyone besides his own citizens. His military was completely contained and there was little evidence to suggest that he was supporting international terrorism. He was cooperating to a large degree with the UN weapons inspections, and the fact that he couldn’t account for a few tons of mustard gas wasn’t enough reason to start bombing.

Given that Iraq was obviously not the next target in the war on international terrorism, I also started wondering whether it was an effective use of the United States’ resources. Had terrorism already been defeated? Was Afghanistan well on its way to becoming a stable nation? And more to the point: could the US afford the financial and military costs of a nearly-unilateral war in Iraq?

The point here is that I, like many Democrats, didn’t oppose the goals of Bush’s foreign policy so much as the means. After all, who doesn’t want to overthrow repressive dictatorships and encourage democracy and freedom? But it was difficult to express this disagreement in a clear and effective manner – the only really good soundbite I heard from prominent Democrats during this period was Senator Graham’s “Osama bin Forgotten.” Adding to this difficulty was the Party’s equivocation about how to handle the anti-war, anti-globalization crowd. You can be pretty sure that you’re going to lose public opinion when ANSWER protest marches dominate media coverage of the left.

Then Howard Dean took the pre-primaries by storm, energizing the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party even further. This dragged his opponents to the left, leaving the eventual winner, John Kerry, backing away from NAFTA and shrilly denouncing the outsourcing of jobs by evil multinational corporations. Perhaps he can win on this platform, but populism and protectionism don’t make for an engaging and inspirational foreign policy.

I think it’s time for Kerry to start engaging Bush on foreign policy; but in doing so, he can’t be afraid to take unpopular positions. If Bush’s continued popularity (at least relative to that of his policies) is any indication, it seems that many Americans are seeking strong leadership – even if they disagree about many of the details. I don’t know if Kerry has it in him to be a strong and forceful leader, but I’d like to see him try.

Here are some things I’d like to hear Kerry say:

  • In international terrorism, we are facing one of the great challenges of this generation. Challenges of this sort require sacrifice, but George Bush has only asked the American people to accept tax cuts and lavish spending increases that will threaten US economic power far into the future. My administration will strictly prioritize its spending; if we are to run a budget deficit, it will be because doing so is necessary to defeat terrorism. Tax cuts for the wealthy will have to wait until we can afford them. I propose to increase spending both on homeland security and the securing of nuclear weapons and material abroad to ensure that we are doing our best to prevent another catastrophic terrorist attack on our soil. I will pay for this and simultaneously reduce the budget deficit by rolling back most of the tax cuts instituted by George Bush.

  • The first priority in our war on terror is to reduce our dependence on foreign oil. By paying absurdly inflated prices to oil producers, we are propping up repressive regimes that are spreading Islamic fundamentalism and encouraging terrorism. No one wants to pay more for gasoline, but we have to raise gas taxes (or better yet, institute a carbon tax!) as a first step in achieving energy self-sufficiency and limiting the control that Middle Eastern dictatorships have over our foreign policy. I will support a 50-cent increase in the gas tax, implemented evenly over seven years. At the same time, I will push for programs to ameliorate the economic dislocation that higher gas taxes will cause, as well as to encourage investment in alternative energy sources.

  • The United States is unchallenged as the most powerful country in the world. Our European allies need to accept this, but Americans must as well. Along with our power comes responsibility – we must lead the world by promoting democracy, freedom and economic development. We cannot turn a blind eye when repressive dictators – like Saddam Hussein – kill tens of thousands of their citizens. We must also acknowledge that as powerful as the United States may be, it is far more powerful and effective when working in concert with other nations through international organizations. For this reason, I will engage our historical allies in the deliberations leading up to important decisions and seek to create new alliances in those parts of the world where American influence is weak. While I do not accept the premise that nations must only act with UN approval, I do believe that the UN has the potential to be an effective governing body, and I will work with other nations to reform the institution.

  • While we will continue to search for members of Al Qaeda and any loosely affiliated terror organizations, we need to recognize that these groups largely derive whatever legitimacy they enjoy in the Muslim world from the policies of the United States. I will apply pressure to allies such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Pakistan to liberalize and democratize while simultaneously providing them with the assistance they need to develop their economies. I will also push forcefully for a negotiated solution to the Israeli / Palestinian conflict. While I acknowledge that Israel must project strength in its agreements with the Arab world and will always remain an important ally of the United States, I also believe that its current policies are unjust and must be changed. I will work to develop a consensus – first within Muslim governments and then with the citizens of Israel and Palestine – to accept a settlement along the lines of Clinton’s proposal or the Oslo Accords. This issue is far too important to allow a relatively small group of extremists on each side to prevent its resolution.

  • While I didn’t agree with George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq when he did, I accept the responsibility to remain there until the situation improves considerably. I will push Congress to devote considerable resources to rebuild both Iraq and Afghanistan and increase oversight of the reconstruction contracts to ensure that the money is spent effectively. I will reach out to NATO and the UN and ask them to lend a hand – while I think the US has much to offer Iraq in terms of creating a stable government, I think it is important for the United Nations to take the lead in transitional governance of the country. The United States does not have colonial aspirations in Iraq, and it is important to clearly demonstrate this to the Iraqi people.

  • More generally, I will make international assistance a priority of my administration. I applaud George Bush for his AIDS relief package to Africa and generous reconstruction assistance to Iraq and Afghanistan, but it is not enough. I will seek to encourage democratic institutions and economic development around the world through expansion of the Peace Corps and USAID.

  • Finally, I will press hard for the expansion of free trade agreements. I will seek to restart the Doha round of trade talks and push the EU and Japan (and Congress) to offer more generous reductions of agricultural subsidies. At the same time, I will energetically make the case to developing nations that they are ones most benefited by lowered trade barriers and encourage them to work with wealthy nations to promote economic development throughout the world.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

Regional fragmentation...

There are so many inefficiencies in the world. This Neal Pierce piece highlights just one of them. The more I learn about the issue the more it seems like a radical rethink of government every few decades would be a good idea.

The Creative Class...

Over the months (or is it almost a year) of writing this blog there is one issue outside of the daily news that has captivated me. This is the debate over the thesis behind the book, "Rise of the Creative Class". There is a recent addition to this debate, a direct retort to his critics written by Richard Florida for the magazine "The Next American City."

Florida responds wisely to his critics from the left and right. The right he shoots down pretty well by highlighting a number of flaws in the critical analysis. This was pretty much like shooting fish in a barrel as I was able to do the same thing a couple of months ago when the critical article in question caught my attention. The basic flaw in the criticism is that you need to look beyond job growth, but at the quality of the jobs. And if quality of jobs (measured by pay) is considered it becomes apparent that creative places are winners.

But there was an element of this critique that I agreed with, and that is why it is the place of government to invest in the amenities that appeal to the creative class. Florida responds to this in two ways. First is to say that he is actually asking for less government investment in amenities, especially in the big projects that suck up a lot of money with questionable benefits (like stadiums). Fair enough I say. Florida is not quite clear on what he sees as the appropriate role of government in encouraging economic development, so it is hard to say if he is wrong. He does say that the critiques assumption is wrong, and I would agree with that. The goal should not be to lower taxes to the lowest possible level, but to use tax dollars in the best way possible to provide value-adding services that cannot come from the private sector. One example here that rises above all others is investment in education. A superior education system is a huge value-adding investment that often gets overlooked. This is expensive, but it is a worthwhile investment, and one that cannot be effectively provided by the private sector.

Florida also responds to his critics on the left. He says that he is not advocating these changes, but describing them, and he does acknowledge the equity issues inherent in this economic change. I think that he may be a bit of an advocate though, with his constant speeches to economic development professionals across the country. The clear implication of his work is that government should make a place attractive to creatives rather than building an industrial park. But this is a value judgment and there are certainly examples of how investment in creative assets comes that the expense of other professions that do not fit his definition of creative. I don't think he fully addresses this critique. While he says that inequity is a problem, he is very reluctant to engage in a discussion of solutions. They might be out of his expertise, but a full description of the socio-economic shift we are seeing should address the impact it has on equity in society (economic and not just political as he hints he will be addressing in coming months).

There is a critique I have put forward which is not addressed. See here for my argument (boils down to an argument against a one-size fits all approach to economic development issues). Florida describes his argument as being about the three T's (Technology, Talent, and Tolerance). But from my view these are not fixed commodities. Certainly Florida's model fits well with the Austin, Boston, SF description of Talent and Tolerance. But there are people with Talent and Tolerance who want something not offered by those places. Salt Lake City is an example. The city is a Mormon paradise. It goes beyond tolerating them, and welcomes them, and in the process marginalizes others. There are very talented Mormons and they make Salt Lake City a successful creative economy. While Boston and SF are examples of tolerance in Florida's model, they are not really welcoming to all people with all possible values. When a portion of work life revolves around drinks after work, coffee bars, and Sunday outings from the city you are marginalizing a religious element of society. At the same time, Salt Lake City marginalizes other people who are very welcome in Boston and SF. I am not arguing that one is better than the other, just that Florida's model does not fully capture the various elements of tolerance (and thus preferences of talent) that exist in the world.

Pissing me off...

This article in the NYT about Kerry lacking a strategy pisses me off. Democrats must be the stupidest political party in the US (except for the Republicans). Seriously, perhaps you all should at least acknowledge a couple of things...like:

In the last three months the economy has improved dramatically while the situation in Iraq has deteriorated dramatically. These were hard to plan for.

Bush has been going for the knockout punch early in the campaign, the fact that Kerry is surviving is an acheivement in itself.

The election is many months away, and most of America is paying much less attention to the campaign than they are to all the crap going on in the world. I would be shocked if it retrospect this election is decided any earlier than 9/11/04.

Kerry has a lot of ammunition stockpiled on Bush/Cheney. Shooting it all now will just lead to it being less effective than it will with daily or weekly issues through September and October.

It is really hard to build a national campaign overnight. That is why Bush has been so aggresive. They knew they would have an advantage for this time period and wanted to take advantage of it. But they have not been able to.

Kerry is still winning the damn election! Polls are crap, but they are certainly not a sign of doom for John Kerry.