Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The latest change at the CIA is the dismissal of the Deputy Director of the Analysis Branch. The New York Times reports that the deputy director for intelligence, Jami Miscik, is stepping down. Yet it als mentions the fact that a former CIA official mentioned that it was not her decision.

The analysis unit has taken a considerable amount of criticism in the wake of revelations about the questionable nature of the intelligence leading up to the Iraq War. There have been numerous resignations in recent months including the former head of the unit responsible for tracking Osama bin Laden who also wrote the book Imperial Hubris, Michael Scheuer.

The new Director of Central Intelligence, Porter J. Goss, was appointed by President Bush and has pledged to "reform" the agency. Critics are concerned that Goss' reform efforts are actually efforts to create the sort of locked-down, leak-proof operation that the White House has managed.

In the past year, leaks have been coming from, the CIA critical of the Bush administration. They emphasize the political pressure the analysis division was under to produce intelligence promoting the administration's argument for war despite protestations from members of the unit who believed the information to be questionable and possibly manufactured.

Goss released a memo not long after his appointment defininf his vision of the CIA:
I want everyone in our workforce to know - I seek to encourage and expect the best from everyone in CIA. Our country demands it, our President needs it, and this institution deserves it. I also intend to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road. We support the Administration and its policies in our work. As Agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the Administration or its policies.
Whether this recent departure of another senior official is retribution or simply a chance to create an opportunity for placement of more officials sympathetic to the administration's outlook will be seen in the coming months.

Monday, December 27, 2004

Over at Daily Kos, Kos has posted a copy of an article from American Conservative Magazine.

It reflects something I have been hoping to see more of; reasonable, intelligent evaluations of policy from the conservative side of the intellectual circles. Certainly allegations that conservatives are no longer members of the "reality-based community" has irked many of the seasoned conservatives who are more interested in talking about policy than getting on television to make sophomoric jokes about liberal policy ideas and the arab/muslism community. Many, I have come to understand, have become worried about the path the Bush Administration has taken in both economic and foreign policy areas. Many prominent conservatives have even begun to express their concerns to the public (George WIll, Pat Buchanan and Bill Kristol to name a few). Even the sometimes sniping National Review blog, The Corner, has been the format for some of the National Review crowd's worries.

This is not to say that there will be some great reconciliation between the left and right thinkers in this country. It is likely that last-minute praise of Bush by some of the same people who now express their discomfort acted as a salve to the consciences of the Republicans who were not comfortable with Bush, his war or his economy, but in the end decided to vote for him because he is not Kerry.

I talked to numerous Republicans who said they didn't want to vote for Bush, but would never vote for Kerry. Many of them in the end, however, decided to hold their nose and pull the lever for Bush, mostly in the hope that the future would be different.

I wonder if their optimism held past the first Cabinet changes.

While I was encouraged by the American Conservative article, I am not yet convinced of the staying power of their dissent. I am all for an open airing of ideas and I enjoy debating policy with conservatives, a healthy debate inside the Republican party may go a long way to easing the concerns of the world, as well as liberals in this country. Yet the slide from William F. Buckley (who recently stepped down as head of National Review) and George Will to Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter has put me in a pessimistic mood.

With the previous crowd of conservatives is was possible to disagree with their ideas while at the same time appreciate the thought that went into it. Now, the invective and juvenile behavior is at such a level that debate is no longer possible. It's as if the Know-Nothings dug themselves out of their 19th century graves and got jobs at the Washington Times and Fox News. The Know-Nothings seemingly only organizing principle was to oppose any and everything. They were anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-poor and anti-alcohol. They were a thorn in Lincoln's side during his Presidency and managed to survive a while longer despite his efforts.

Today the Republican Party likes to refer to itself as the party of Lincoln, yet the Know-Nothings may be a more accurate forbearer to the modern Republican Party.

This is not to paint all Republicans with the same brush. As the author of the AC article (Realism Rebuffed) makes clear, there is more than one tent in the Republican party, it just so happens that the least thoughtful, more antagonistic and brash group is holding the reins at the moment.

I wait for the day when people such as my father would put down the Washington Times and turn off Rush Limbaugh and pick back up the National Review, American Conservative and the other thoughtful conservative outlets. This would help not only improve the dialogue between the left and right in this country, but hopefully improve the policies of this government.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

So what has happened to leadership in politics? When did Senators, members of what is supposed to be the more thoughtful and refined chamber of Congress, knuckle under to political gamesmanship. Certainly politics is part of the calculous, but the lack of thoughtful discussion or any type of dissent is a distressing indicator. The Senate used to be a place where the traditions and history tended to win out over small-time individual and party tendencies. There will always be party influences, but there was an independence and freedom granted to Senators that their colleagues in the House would never experience. The House has already been afflicted by an overly enthusiastic adherence to a party line, to the detriment of any form of dialogue. It would be disappointing to see similar tendencies develop in the Senate.

From Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo.
He's frequently talked up by the White House as someone who they think they can get to come across. And here's what the Journal said about him last week ...

Mr. Nelson says he is "not saying no to some level of privatization " and is spending the holiday recess assembling a template for overhaul. He says he won't support a plan that could destabilize the current system and says he will insist on "real accounting" in tracking the cost. Like Sens. Conrad and Graham, he doesn't rule out painful steps like cutting benefits. "It's always an option," Mr. Nelson says. "It's sort of the last thing you do."

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Merry Christmas Everyone!
I hope everyone has a safe and happy holiday with friends and family.
A couple of interesting overlapping developments that seem to help clarify the Republican position on how they intend to improve the economy and help give America a boost. The current fight over how to handle new developments in biotechnology, and wether Missouri will be participating in its future growth is going to be one that we will be watching during the coming months.

A larger problem for the future of research in sciences in the United States is one that has a direct impact on Missouri as well as posing a large, if underreported, problem for economic and technological growth in the U.S. Two policies enacted under the Bush administration are likely to cause Universities to see the level of new research as well as future financing decline in the coming years.

The most baffling and short-sighted policy, especially coming at this happy time of year, is the administration's decision to reduce financial support for college students. As Garance Franke-Ruta said over at Tapped:
You might think that reducing aid for young people to go to college would negatively impact the nation's economic future by reducing pathways into the middle-class and the number of skilled workers in the labor force. But it's quite essential to the ongoing Republican effort to re-educate the American public toward a more individualistic philosophy of government that the citizenry be taught early that they can expect no outside assistance and that as soon as they leave the parental nest, they are really and truly on their own.
Read the whole piece, the details are startling. Instead of investing in education, supposedly Bush's personal crusade and which could have a much larger long-term economic return, he is more interested in saving $300 million by reducing pell grants for over a million students. With a deficit of over $400 billion dollars, it is good to see some cots cutting by the supposedly fiscally responsible Republicans.

This type of emphasis on ideology over reality as well as common sense has been seen in Missouri often enough. The recent attempt to force biology textbooks to discuss alternative theories to evolution, as if these theories have any basis in science or any reason to be in a textbook other than to satisfy someone's ideological viewpoint.

The other perhaps more major problem is the declining number of foreign students coming to the U.S. to study and do research in fields such as biotech, computer science, engineering and most of the other "hard sciences". This is mostly due to immigration policies which make it increasingly tough for foreign students to come to the U.S. as well as policies that force many of the students that are here to leave the country after graduating their programs. From Kevin Drum at Political Animal:
I suspect that a lot of Americans have no idea just how dependent we are on foreigners to fill our graduate schools, especially in technical areas. Without Indian immigrants, for example, Silicon Valley would practically be a ghost town and the dotcom boom would have been stillborn. The biotech industry would be devastated. Engineering schools would be depopulated.

If we're lucky, this recent drop is a temporary reaction to 9/11. At the same time, though, the absolute decline in the number of native born Americans who are interested in graduate work in the sciences is kind of scary. One of these days we're going to have start pulling our own weight again. The rest of the world isn't going to be willing to subsidize us forever.
In the long run, nothing good will come from this. The United States' position in the world as a technological leader is threatened by developing industries in India and China (to name two). Unless this administration begins to put actual progress and growth ahead of political gain, we can expect it to become harder and harder for American technology and science-based businesses to compete and a slowdown in the area of the economy that has been the engine of growth since the early 90's.

On the local level, Missouri can help fight this trend by encouraging growth in the science sector and providing financial aid to offset the federal cuts, or it can sit back and tempt evolution. After all, even Republicans believe that the strongest survive.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Rachel Melcer explains the coming fight over the future of biotech in Missouri in today's St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Proponents of the biotech industry fear that Missouri could outlaw stem cell work, even as California and other states are enthusiastically and financially supporting it. The result would be a siphoning away of researchers and firms.

"There are lots of incoming legislators for whom this issue will be brand new, and that presents a tremendous educational challenge," said Donn Rubin, executive director of the Coalition for Plant and Life Sciences, which is working to build a biotech industry in St. Louis.

He spoke on behalf of the letter signers: William Danforth, chairman of the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center; Elson Floyd, president of the University of Missouri system; Mark Wrighton, chancellor of Washington University; and William Neaves, president of the Stowers Institute for Medical Science in Kansas City.
This is only the beginning of a debate that will have an enormous impact on Missouri's future in the biotech field. As I noted in a previous post, there is a strong push by conservative legislators to restrict areas of exploration as well as encourage the teaching of bad science (e.g. intelligent design, which isn't science at all, but is being marketed as if it were). While the conservative argument is that they are on the morally correct side of the issue, the fact of the matter is that they may be pushing their agenda in an area in which they have little understanding.
Opponents say somatic cell nuclear transfer, the method that led to cloning Dolly the sheep, creates viable human embryos that are killed in the process.

"The end doesn't justify the means," Lembke said. "I don't believe in us building our economy on the backs of human embryos. I don't believe that to (sacrifice) the life of one human being for the sake of the life of another human being is an ethical or moral thing to do."

Most researchers agree that the procedure could lead to a human clone, but only if the process were taken well beyond the few days of growth allowed in stem cell research - including implanting the cells into a womb. Scientists almost universally agree that human cloning is wrong and won't engage in it.

Ursula Goodenough, a biology professor at Washington University and past president of the American Society for Cell Biology, said the cloning argument was "a red herring." Scientists are developing ways to create stem cells that could not survive or grow into a baby, even if that were tried.

"These slippery slope arguments are very dangerous," she said. "If I buy pounds of fertilizer, it could be used as a bomb to blow up a federal building - but that doesn't mean that's what I'm going to use it for."
While Goodenough's last comment is a bit strong, the point is well taken. There are multiple applications for all sorts of tools and techniques. The biotech community is already working to police itself and is working to find ways to improve health care techniques. It is not trying a new form of eugenics.

The question is, will Missouri be left behind and be marked as a backward-looking Luddites? A number of groups and companies have invested enormous amounts of money in Missouri with the idea of developing a bitoech program here. Will bad science and crafty politics put Missouri at the bottom of the list for future investment?

Monday, December 20, 2004

Atrios has a post that sums up my feelings on the upcoming fight over Social Security.
Right Idea

Josh Marshall has the right idea. Well funded primary challengers to right wing Democrats will beat them, even if they don't eventually win elected office. There are some issues about which I understand how geography dictates certain positions. Social Security is not one of them. And, frankly, who gives a shit if we lose a couple more seats.

The social security issue comes down to this: The Democrats should be able not only to beat the Republicans on this, but also to beat them over the heads with it. It needs to be the cornerstone of the identity of the Democratic party…

…I overheard someone in a restaurant the other day saying something along the lines of "Bush captured the center by running to the Right." I'm not be sure how true this is, but the idea was that by running to the Right, Bush proved he stood for "something" and voters approve of that, even if they don't approve of the policies themselves. I don't know how much this matters, but I do know a party has to stand for something.
This all ties in to the fact that the National Democratic Party needs new leadership. The current leadership is failing the party and has let the Republicans run roughshod over them. Democrats have made gains at the state level, so that indicates that there is support for the Democrats, and that there are capable organizers and leaders at those levels. Many people have pointed to Montana's Democratic Governor-elect Brian Schweitzer (David Sirota has an article in Washington Monthly on the election) as proof that there is more to the Donkey than meets the eye.

While it is true the Democratic party is far more diverse and capable than many give it credit for, Democrats can not afford to lie back on the surprise successes of today and expect it to carry them through what I am sure many Democrats believe to be merely a "dark period" for the party.

Democrats can not simply hang their hats on folks like Obama and Schweitzer and expect to make it through. Every victory for the Democrats, for the foreseeable future is going to have to be fought for tooth and nail.
Sam Rosenfeld over at Tapped sums up President Bush's Q&A style. Now that the White House press corps is finally feeling a little feistier, we can expect more and more of this. (Via Political Animal):
BUSH AND SOCIAL SECURITY....Over at Tapped, Sam Rosenfeld provides a play-by-play of George Bush's responses to questions about Social Security at today's press conference:

The president got a tad petulant when fielding questions on Social Security. His emphatic response to any and all queries about his position on the subject was an indignant, righteous refusal to answer: “You’re not going to get me to negotiate with myself,” he repeatedly told the perplexed reporters. “I know what you’re trying to get me to do. You’re trying to get me to answer ‘Why this,’ ‘why that,’ to take positions — don’t bother to ask me.” Rather than merely dodge the questions, Bush seemed intent on staking out an explicit, principled position in favor of dodging the question.

That's our president! A man of principle in all things.

—Kevin Drum 3:34 PM Permalink| TrackBack (1)| Comments (22)

What I would like to see more of from the press is a focus on the fact that this administration, and the President in particular, refuse to answer any question above a 3rd grade level. Any pointed question asking for an explanation or further details of a policy are either dismissed in the above manner or are returned with sarcastic non-answers.

While the President may feel complete abhorrence for the media, he still has a responsibility to explain his policies to the American public, or at least demonstrate that he understands the policies he is enacting. Yet due to the few and far between public addresses that rise above the level of campaign speech, the press corps is the only body in place to get these answers from the administration.

Careful and complete control of the administration's message of the day is a hallmark of this administration. Discipline is not a bad thing, however, when it results in an under-informed populace that is lied to by the leaders of this country, its time for the press to take a stand.

While is may be extreme, the press either needs to force coherent and substantial answers from the President, or refuse to cover his remarks with anything more than the perfunctory nature the President treats his questioners.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

There are efforts all across the globe to achieve greater means of deomcratic and economic freedom. One of the most potentially explosive situations exists between Taiwan and China. As of a few days ago, the Chinese raised the bar for Taiwanese independence.
BEIJING, Dec. 17 - The Communist Party-controlled legislature has indicated that it is preparing to enact a law against secession, possibly mandating military action if Taiwan were to declare independence.

A draft law forbidding secession by any part of China, announced Friday by the New China News Agency, suggests that President Hu Jintao is seeking to eliminate any lingering doubts that the Chinese military would attack Taiwan if the island formally severed ties with the mainland.

"This is a step the people have been demanding for many years," says Yu Keli, a Taiwan expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing. "There can be no ambiguity that China will fight Taiwanese independence no matter what."
This all comes on the heels of an electoral victory by the Taiwanese Nationalist Party which supports better relations with China and opposes the pro-indepenedence Taiwanese President Chen Shui-bian.

Despite a seeming decrese in interest in independence, the fact remains that,
The United States has pledged to defend Taiwan if the mainland attacks…
Any future pro-independence actions on part of the Taiwanese contains the inherent danger of draging the United States in as well. Holding back concerns for serious action in the Taiwanese Straight is the fact that the U.S., China and Taiwan are all locked in a trade relationship. The disruption of such a relationship could have economic reprocussions that none of the countries involved wants to see happen.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Social Security privatization (elimination) has become a big fixture for me lately. It has already been the subject of countless speeches loaded with questionable statements and part of an economic conference which, if one reads the more objective (i.e. non-administration sources) reports of the conference, had so little basis in actual economic theory that Roosevelt High's math club could have torn through their estimates.

Paul Krugman weighs in on the subject by pointing out the results of some other privatization attempts that have been made in other countries:
Privatization dissipates a large fraction of workers' contributions on fees to investment companies…

…Decades of conservative marketing have convinced Americans that government programs always create bloated bureaucracies, while the private sector is always lean and efficient. But when it comes to retirement security, the opposite is true. More than 99 percent of Social Security's revenues go toward benefits, and less than 1 percent for overhead. In Chile's system, management fees are around 20 times as high. And that's a typical number for privatized systems.
The most consistently ire-provoking aspect of this whole fiasco is the lack of critical coverage from most of the mainstream press. The Bush plan, flawed though it is, has a chance of going through mostly due to a lack of accurate information given to the public. The Republicans so far control the ground this debate is standing on.

Unless the Democrats can understand that and work to change the playing field, Bush will, over the objections of every economist and policy expert not on the GOP payroll, destroy one of the few government plans that _actually_ works the way it is supposed to.

Update: From Josh at Talking Points Memo
It turns out that there is at least one House Democrat who's coming out for ending the Social Security program. That would be Rep. Allen Boyd of Florida. He recently signed on as the cosponsor of Jim Kolbe's phase-out bill.

So, as long as we know where Boyd stands, let's find out where everyone else stands on the issue too.

The only way the Democrats are going to survive this is through complete and total party discipline. All it takes is a few Democrats crossing the isle and the Republicans will have all the PR they need. As someone else said (I can't remember at the moment, but I can't take credit for this idea), this needs to be completely on the Republicans, win or lose (and it will be lose). Any shadow of bipartisanship will simply give the Republicans political coverage in the long run.

Killing Social Security is the Republican's baby, let them take all the credit.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

From the New York Times: House's Author of Drug Benefit Joins Lobbyists
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 - Representative Billy Tauzin, a principal author of the new Medicare drug law, will become president of the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the chief lobby for brand-name drug companies, the trade group announced Wednesday.

"This industry understands that it's got a problem," Mr. Tauzin, a Louisiana lawmaker who is retiring from Congress, said in an interview. "It has to earn the trust and confidence of consumers again."

Miles D. White, chairman of Abbott Laboratories and of the trade association, sitting next to Mr. Tauzin, said he agreed that the industry had lost the trust of millions of Americans.

…Drug makers said that the job was not a reward for Mr. Tauzin's work on the Medicare bill, which followed the industry's specifications in many respects. The law was signed by President Bush on Dec. 8, 2003, a few weeks before a lawyer for Mr. Tauzin began talks with the drug trade group.

So...the industry has an image problem, I can't imagine why?
Hmmm....providing political cover for a possible Rumsfeld release? This from Laura Rozen over at War and Piece.
Who's the real audience of this (welcome and belated) dump-Rumsfeld campaign by Kristol, Donnelly, Senators Coleman, Collins, Trent Lott, McCain, etc.? I can't help but think, Rumsfeld's old boss, Dick Cheney. When will he see the tipping point has been reached?
The Democrats have been critical of him for quite a while. Now with top Republicans stating no-confidence in Rumsfeld, will it give Bush needed cover? Or will Bush's lauded loyalty factor keep Rumsfeld safe?
Just when you thought Alabama was no fun, the judiciary come back to liven up the party!
McKathan told The Associated Press that he believes the Ten Commandments represent the truth "and you can't divorce the law from the truth. ... The Ten Commandments can help a judge know the difference between right and wrong."

He said he doesn't believe the commandments on his robe would have an adverse effect on jurors.

"I had a choice of several sizes of letters. I purposely chose a size that would not be in anybody's face," he said.
The lawyer who was trying a case in front of this judge, Attorney Riley Powell, objected to the robe. The judge unsurprisingly overruled the motion. But before anyone worries that the judge might be alone in his fashion crusade, another biblically inclined judge stepped in to offer support.
"I applaud Judge McKathan. It is time for our judiciary to recognize the moral basis of our law," [former Alabama Chief Justice Roy] Moore said.
Moore was removed from the Alabama Supreme Court in 2003 for refusing to remove a 2+ ton monument of the ten commandments he had installed in the court house rotunda.

If he loses the case, Powell will include the robe in his appeal.
Martin Ven Der Werf's column in today's paper hit on a specific example of what I was trying to say in my previous post, as well as my earlier post on State Rep. Cynthia Davis's backing of a pro-intelligent design bill (which Archpundit also commented on and was nice enough to link my post to).

There has been an effort to make Missouri an "incubator"' for health-science and biotech companies, but there are some concerns as well.
When Dr. John W. McDonald, the Washington U. neurologist who treated the late actor Christopher Reeve, announced over the summer that he was decamping for Johns Hopkins University, he partly blamed the Missouri political atmosphere.

The perception is growing that the state is inhospitable to some medical research, just as the life science industry is starting to gain some momentum.
Saint Louis University is in the process of trying to build a new research building both to expand its own research departments as well as to attract new talent from across the country. Washington University is world-renowned in the biotech and health sciences. Governor-elect Matt Blunt has talked about helping make Missouri a leader in this area.

All of this means Missouri, and other states, need to find a way to counter offers like California's $3 billion dollar pledge to stem cell research. It doesn't have to be stem cells, but options have to be considered. If not, Missouri will find the money, talent and prestige going elsewhere.

One of the first steps to improving Missouri's chances is to immediately shoot down counter-productive ideas such as Davis' "evolution alternative" requirement for biology books sold to Missouri schools. No company will settle in a state that officially refuses to understand the definition of "scientific theory".
Does the administration really have an interest in the future of this country, or are they simply short-sighted? Steve Clemmons over at the Washington Note talks about the recent FCC decision.
Today, the FCC ruled in a contentious battle to deny wholesale rate access to competitors of regionally monopolistic Baby Bell firms, like Verizon. Why is this important?

Because we are going to see rates to businesses and household consumers rise. We are going to see incumbents entrench themselves in old technologies with slower rates of innovation. The powerful forces that were driving costs down while at the same time generating new and bold innovations in information technology are being strangled.

The problem is that collusive interests are undermining the will of the U.S. Congress which tried to make absolutely sure that facilities that the Baby Bells inherited after the break-up of AT&T were made available at fair rates to competitors who could not be expected to create massive new regional and national facilities to reach consumers.

This regime has been collapsing for some time. The bottom line, in my view, is that Michael Powell knows his days are numbered at the FCC and he's going to need a job soon.

Not only is Powell not protecting the country from the nefarious consequences of concentrated media power, he is driving it. He has exploited Janet Jackson's boob-stunt to create fear throughout the broadcast media on the viability of provocative educational and political content. And now, he is stifling America's broadband-rich potential and taking us back to a time of oligopolies in technology firms.

There has been continuing concern on the part of business and universities that the current policies of the Bush administration are driving away talented individuals (foreign students and emigrees), as well as reducing American competitiveness in the global marketplace by reducing investment in technology and a growing anti-science mentality. The Washington Monthly had an article last year by Nicholas Thompson on just this issue (Science Friction July/August 2003). The article isn't available on-line, but the basic idea is that there are a number of areas including immigration, health care and research that the U.S. is falling behind on. Charlie Rose had a round-table discussion on this topic a few months ago and the general consensus is that other countries are investing more into science education and modernizing technology.

The U.S. will take its future in its own hands unless it deals with these issues. While many laughed at Al Gore's tech/science wonkishness and Clinton's electronic superhighway to the future, they were putting in place policies that would keep America on the leading edge. There are already several countries now with a higher penetration of broad band access than in the U.S. The Bush administration, in contrast, seems more concerned with posh board positions (Michael Powell) and appealing to an anti-science base (conservative christians).

Actions like California's recent approval of $3 billion for stem-cell research might be controversial, but it will bring further investment as well as an immigration of capable minds. President Bush needs to take similar steps on the national level, if not stem-cell research, than in other areas such as gene therapy and fossil fuel alternatives (not even for environmental reasons, but because someone is going to do it, why not us?). An aggressive courting of cutting edge scientists and tech specialists can help keep the U.S. at the forefront.
St. Louis business leaders and builders seem to be worried by the construction shutdown at St. John's two worksites. Union construction workers stopped work yesterday to honor the St. John's nurses walkout. The construction shutdown is actually illegal according to federal law and rarely occurs. Alberici and McCarthy construction companies gave their workers a day pass, but expect them back to work today.
The local construction industry has cited strong labor-management relations as a way to lure new businesses to the St. Louis area. A construction work stoppage at St. John's could undercut that message, [Leonard Toenjes, president of the Associated General Contractors] said.

"It gives the region a black eye when we're looking at the positives of bringing work here and bringing jobs here," he said.

One of the major issues in the St. John's nurses strike is the hospital's insistence that it be an "open shop". In other words, that employees be allowed to opt-out of joining the union. The non-union workers are still required to pay a fee to the union for the collective bargaining services they provide because their wages are higher because of the efforts of the union.

The problem with the open-shop requirement is the union's fear it could drive the union out of the hospital. Indeed, a number of nurses crossed the picket line to continue working alongside the temp nurses brought it to fill vacancies.

The history and current status of unions in St. Louis is a tumultuous one. Unions are trying to find their way in an economy with high turnover and a loss of traditional strongholds. The unions sometimes still play a controversial role in many situations here in St. Louis, and as a result have lost some support and even earned some negative images. Yet the contributions of unions to the present standard of living for workers is undeniable and there is still an effort to drive unions out of business, whether through legal means or through intimidation.

Unions have their own problems, as do businesses. The most important part in this current conversation is that everyone keep perspective. People want to work on their own terms, businesses usually want people to work on their terms. Everything else is a matter of negotiation.
But [Kevin Kuntz, McCarthy's senior vice president of operations] was relatively confident that construction would resume today at the hospital in Creve Coeur.

"We've been talking to the unions," he said. "We're getting positive feedback."
Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo sums up the President's Social Security priority far more concisely than I have:
As Paul Krugman, Kevin Drum and many others have been making clear in recent days, the entirety of the president's argument is based on a series of well-constructed lies. The president's advisors were never more truthful than they were when they compared the coming round of disinformation and fear-mongering to their public campaign in support of the Iraq war in 2002.

The Social Security "crisis" is manufactured; there is no crisis. To the extent there are long-term financing problems, the president's plan will gravely worsen them. The problem we face isn't over Social Security, which continues to run up huge surpluses (just as it was intended to under the early-80s reform), but that our non-Social Security budget continues to run massive structural deficits. Or rather, it has returned to running massive structural deficits after getting into the black in the late 1990s through the combined exertions of a Democratic president and a Republican congress. Social Security isn't the problem, but rather George W. Bush's reckless fiscal policy.
What also should be noted is Josh's reference to the 80's reform. The essence of that reform (as I understand it, I could be wrong) is that the payroll taxes would be increased and the surplus funds would be used to buy bonds. Then in 2015 or so, as payroll tax income falls below the payout level, the bonds would be cashed in to support payouts and income tax would be bumped up to ensure the bonds could be covered. The idea is that the working-class would take a heavier burden for new, and it would then switch to the wealthier among us.

There are several issues surrounding this "reform" push: 1. GOP desire to kill Social Security, 2. Refocus attention away from the administration's fiscal policy, 3. Ensure that if the system must remain, that changes will be made on their terms.

Any and all of these are issues that have to be considered when considering administration plans for social security. As Josh points out, the truly pressing economic issues facing this country revolve around Medicare, a weak dollar and an enormous and mounting debt.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch carried an article written by Joel Havemann of the L.A. Times on the growing scepticism concerning the President's focus on the "coming collapse" of Social Security. The economists referred to in the article all say that the fear-mongering pushed by the Republicans at the moment is off-base, that Social Security will be okay well into the future.

A number of people have been trying to get more focus on the actual math concerning the future of Social Security which shows that, even untouched, the system will be okay well past 2050, and with a bit of tinkering could be solvent for the foreseeable future. Much of the focus on "reform" has mostly been to reframe the public perception so that the Republicans can achieve what they have longed to do for decades, eliminate Social Security.

Devin Drum at Political Animal has an excellent article on what we can expect in the coming weeks concerning the discussion over Social Security.
One of the things that's slowly becoming clear in the Social Security debate is that President Bush's advisors are probably not going to risk what's left of their professional reputations by pretending that private accounts can fix Social Security's future funding shortfall. Instead, they're going to propose benefit cuts in order to balance the books.
What Kevin points out, which is also mentioned in the L.A. Times article, is the alternative plan of changing the benefits index from wage inflation to price inflation (Consumer Price Index, CPI). Currently, as wages increase, the paid-out-benefits also increase. Instead the new system would increase benefits as prices increase. Given that wages have risen at twice the rate that prices have in the past 50 years and that barring an economic collapse wages are likely to outpace prices, this change in the index equals a benefit cut. If this passes the Republicans can cut benefits while blaming it on economic effects, thus achieving deniability.

In the long-term, if this happens, people will see benefits decrease and thus it will seem that Republican cries of SS insolvency were true, thus laying the stage for a re-emergence of private accounts and the dissolution of the SS system.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

On Monday, the post ran an article reflecting on Holden's time as governor. The article takes a rather downbeat look at Holden's tenure in the Governor's Mansion. It focuses more on the problems Holden faced and what he attempted to do to overcome those difficulties.
Holden's four years in office were marked by political battles with Republicans, unrelenting budget problems and challenges from within his own party. He says now that if he had to do it all over again, he would make the same policy decisions. And he adds that if he had survived the primary against McCaskill, he believes he could have beaten Blunt in the general election.

Holden faced a series of setbacks - some not of his own making - almost from the moment he took office. In his first few weeks as governor, American Airlines acquired St. Louis-based TWA, financial problems forced him to cut millions from the state budget and Republicans took control of the state Senate for the first time since 1948.

There was one positive note from a former Holden appointee, 'Steve Roling, who was director of the Department of Social Services under Holden, said he would be remembered by those who cared about education, health care and jobs "as someone who stood up for them in really difficult times and wouldn't back down."'

Many people I talk to who have been involved in Missouri politics had a great deal of respect for Holden as governor and respected the strength of his convictions. Certainly a significant factor in Claire McCaskill's victory in the primary was Holden's "nice-guy" attitude and a certain lack of style in public speaking. Some voters felt that McCaskill's more aggressive style (honed during her career as a prosecutor) would be more effective against Governor-elect Matt Blunt.

While I agree that a more aggressive campaign would be more effective, after listening to Holden's concession speech on election night I think that if Holden could have spoken more about his ideals than letting himself get bogged down in details (as he did during the primary debates) the voters may have responded better. Holden certainly had the baggage of an incumbent, but McCaskill's reformist campaign also failed to create enough support.

At this point Missouri Democrats are going to have to work with a Republican dominated state government, and decide how and with whom they will challenge Republican control.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

With control of legislative investigations in the hands of Republicans, the Democrats (outnumbered though they may be) are doing something smart. While their new investigative committee has no authority whatsoever, the key to getting an investigation really moving is to get some press coverage, which is exactly what they are trying to do.

One of the advantages the Republican's have in controlling both houses of Congress is not only that they get to set the legislative agenda, they also get control over the possibility of hearings and investigations that so plagued Clinton's two terms. With the Republicans in control of all three branches, the chances of any actual investigation into any malfeasance is slim to none. The Congress was even able to gloss over the President's initially staunch opposition to the 9/11 commission and any implementation of suggested changes. They were able to make the President's grudging acceptance of reality look like an open-armed embrace.

While there may be some grumbling by Republicans in the Congress, any defection or free enterprise is likely to be squashed early. The GOP leadership is ruling with an iron fist, the efforts to pass the intelligence reform bill in the House were a clear example of that. The GOP refused to let it pass unless every needed Republican vote was in. The bill could have passed with bipartisan support, plenty of Democrats supported it, but the leadership refused to let go to a vote until they had enough Republican votes to make any Democratic support unnecessary. The couple Republican holdouts eventually had their concerns heard and even a couple were responded to (tougher immigration laws for example), but it must have been a tough stand.

Most of the grease that moved the intelligence bill through the congress against the wishes of the White House was the overwhelming public pressure. It was too public and too tough a subject to drop the ball on. The Democrats hope to tap into public opinion to pressure Republicans into looking into subjects they should already be investigating.
In another move destined to increase public consternation over the handling of school reform here in St. Louis, the school board voted to spend $60,000 to hire a public relations consultant,
"services included creating "a supportive environment for our recent reform efforts."
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch also reported the fact that the consultant company, Unicom ARC is headed by Ed Finkelstein a long-time ally of former Mayor Vincent C. Schoemehl Jr. who was one of the board members who voted to hire the consultant.

If that isn't interesting enough, Unicom ARC was investigate by the Board of Alderman in 2001 for not producing an ad campaign after spending several hundred thousand dollars. Unicom also recently helped pass a $70 million bond issue for the Hazelwood school district this past election.

The problem is not so much that there are long-standing connections between the company and one of the board members. This particular board member is a former mayor and this company has been working for major groups and governments around the metro area. The problem is that this is yet again another coat of paint on a broken down building.

No amount of message massaging and focus grouping will improve the quality of the public school system in St. Louis. The system is broken from the bottom to the top, starting with inadequate materials and space for students, right up to school board members who act worse than the kids they are attempting to help.

There have been positive steps taken, as well as faltering ones, yet to make such a move which the board has to know will infuriate the boards most vocal opponents makes little sense. In a situation in which even slight changes can provoke challenges that can slow any process down to a crawl, it is even more important to pick your battles carefully.

The board needs to focus on effecting positive change. There has been some progress, the recent edition of the Arch City Chronicle (print edition) has an article on a new attempt to make some changes to the curriculum that has drawn some praise. Progress is slight these days for the school board so any, even a little, is welcome. They should focus on more real world solutions than in covering their corporate communications.
Dave Drebes handicaps the upcoming St. Louis Mayoral Race in The St. Louis Business Journal. Drebes also runs the excellent and indispensable Arch City Chronicle. It looks like this may be shaping up into another standard South vs. North vote split. It would certainly be nice to see a mayoral candidate that people on both sides of the divide could support. Instead we get the white/black split. Even Mayor Harmon, who garnered a good deal of support from South City and the white community, was seen by the black community as a bit of a sell-out, picked by the powers that be to put a good face on things.

Perhaps one day.

Although a bit of good news, perennial Mayoral Candidate, outspoken School Board Member, and former candidate for Showtimes American Candidate, Bill Haas is out running again.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Well, it was bound to happen here. There have been plenty of allusions by those on the right that the left leaning individuals in this country are helping our "enemies". Now, however, at least one member of the legislature from here in Missouri has equated the liberal groups in this country with the September 11th highjackers. From State Representative Cynthia Davis (District 19):
"It's like when the hijackers took over those four planes on Sept. 11 and took people to a place where they didn't want to go," she added. "I think a lot of people feel that liberals have taken our country somewhere we don't want to go. I think a lot more people realize this is our country and we're going to take it back."
Davis made that statement to the New York Times in an article on Christian Conservatives growing focus on gaining power in statehouses. In particular Davis was pushing an agenda to remove state support for any sex-ed programs that taught anything other than abstinence only as well as requiring publishers selling biology textbooks to Missouri to include at least one chapter on alternative theories to evolution.

There are two issues here of course. Deciding which is more problematic is not so easy. Inflammatory rhetoric such as Davis' is not only out of line, as an elected official she holds a position which may help to legitimize such hateful characterizations. This line of attack has been in use since 9/11, when Pat Robertson, founder of the 700 club, stated that the country had brought the attack upon itself by tolerating gays, abortion and other "liberal" ideas. While it is easy to dismiss Robertson and his ilk who have a significant financial incentive to keep their membership agitated, when public officials espouse such ideas in the service of their work, it raises concerns that are not so easily dismissed.

The second problem is, of course, the effect that such flawed educational programs like the ones proposed by Davis will have on Missouri's future.

Scientific data has pretty much blown the idea that abstinence only works in reducing pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. While the basic point is true, if you don't have sex there is no chance of pregnancy or STDs. However, the whole of human history is a testimony to the fact that, well, people have sex. The responsible position is to educate individuals in the realities of sex while instilling a sense of personal respect so that they treat the issue with the seriousness is deserves. Simply giving a kid a condom doesn't solve anything, nor does simply telling them not to have sex.

The idea of introducing "alternative theories" to evolution has been tried on several occasions before here in Missouri. The pro-alternative ideas are mostly couched in the "intelligent design" rhetoric which basically states that life is to complex to occur by chance and that there must have been a hand guiding the development of life. The argument is that it is a theory and so therefore is just as qualified to be used in a biology program. What the "intelligent design" folks overlook is that their theory is not a scientific theory, but a philosophical/religious theory, inappropriate for a biology class. A scientific theory is a theory that explains phenomena, make predictions and can be tested. Evolution only attempts to explain scientifically by what process life has progressed on earth. If science were to develop a %100 error-free explanation of the development of life from the emergence of amino acids to how the brain communicates with itself, none of it would be in conflict with the idea of a creator. Recently a long-time proponent of atheism, British philosopher Antony Flew stated that after decades of study and thought, he believes there is a creator. While such a statement from a prominent atheistic scholar may have brought cheers from the religious, he followed his statement be saying that a creator may exist but he's not working in our live on a day to day basis.

The result of the success of such an anti-science agenda would be the downgrading of Missouri as a source of educated graduates to work in the increasingly technical fields of science and medicine. Theories in science are tools for better understanding. The greatest characteristic of a theory is that if something comes along to disprove it, its dismissed and a better theory is constructed and used until new evidence forces further change.

Change is not something many of these conservative groups desire. They often believe it threatens their very existence. Yet without progress and development we will be left behind. In addition, not using our faculties to the best of our abilities kind of removes the point of having them in the first place.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

I have to take the time to point out a post by Kevin Drum over at Political Animal. He runs down the basic fallacy of the argument for privatization of social security put forward by the administration.
"This growth is lower than we're used to, but that's because GDP growth = population growth + productivity growth. Since population growth is slowing down, so will GDP growth.

Still, what if you assume that things will be a little more robust than this? If you project GDP growth of around 2.6% per year, you end up with Estimate I, and in that scenario Social Security never runs out of money. In fact, if you project GDP growth just a few tenths higher than 1.8%, Social Security stays solvent for the next century.

In other words, if GDP growth averages, say, 2.2% over the next 75 years, Social Security is in fine shape and we don't have to do anything. We only need to "fix" it with private accounts if GDP growth is less than that.

So here's the puzzler: for private accounts to be worthwhile, they need to have long-term annual returns of at least 5%, and 6-7% is the number most advocates use. But are there any plausible scenarios in which long-term real GDP growth is less than 2% but long-term real returns (capital gains plus dividends) on stock portfolios are well over 5%?"
I recommend checking out the whole post as well as going through some of the comments on Kevin's post. This is an extension of a point he has been trying to make for awhile, that Social Security is not in danger of imminent collapse and that small, rational changes can keep the program running for a good long time. Drum is not the only one who makes this argument of course, Berkley Economist Brad DeLong and Princeton Economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman have been poking holes in the administration and GOP's bad economic policy for years.

If you want an excellent explanation of modern economics and a helpful guide to avoiding the pitfalls of public statements of economic "facts" (often cited by the GOP and Bush administration to lure people to back their haphazard programs), Krugman's book, Accidental Theorist is something you have to pick up.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Michael Sheuer, former CIA analyst and author of the controversial "Imperial Hubris" has a commentary in yesterday's L.A. Times about the CIA and why he resigned recently.

In the piece he cites frustration over good work and opportunities to get bin Laden in the late 90's being wasted. He is also frustrated that the intelligence service as a whole is getting the blame for what the decision-makers at the top decided. His frustration echoes some of Thomas Powers' commentary on the tendency to point fingers at the intelligence community as the source of the failure when, in general, they were getting it right.
Also via TPM, a worrisome editorial about the falling dollar:
"…This time round, it is a bad sign that everybody is trying to point the finger of blame at somebody else. America says its external deficit is mainly due to sluggish growth in Europe and Japan, and to the fact that China is pegging its exchange rate too low. Europe, alarmed at the “brutal” rise in the euro, says that America's high public borrowing and low household saving are the real culprits.

There is something to both these claims. China and other Asian economies should indeed let their currencies rise, relieving pressure on the euro. It is also true that Asia is partly to blame for America's consumer binge: its central banks' large purchases of Treasury bonds have depressed bond yields, encouraging households in the United States to take out bigger mortgages and spend the cash. And Europe needs to accept, as it is unwilling to, that a weaker dollar will be a good thing if it helps to shrink America's deficit and curb the risk of a future crisis. At the same time, Europe is also right: most of the blame for America's deficit lies at home. America needs to cut its budget deficit. It is not a question of either do this or do that: a cheaper dollar and higher American saving are both needed if a crunch is to be avoided.

Simple but harsh

Many American policymakers talk as though it is better to rely entirely on a falling dollar to solve, somehow, all their problems. Conceivably, it could happen—but such a one-sided remedy would most likely be far more painful than they imagine. America's challenge is not just to reduce its current-account deficit to a level which foreigners are happy to finance by buying more dollar assets, but also to persuade existing foreign creditors to hang on to their vast stock of dollar assets, estimated at almost $11 trillion. A fall in the dollar sufficient to close the current-account deficit might destroy its safe-haven status. If the dollar falls by another 30%, as some predict, it would amount to the biggest default in history: not a conventional default on debt service, but default by stealth, wiping trillions off the value of foreigners' dollar assets.

The dollar's loss of reserve-currency status would lead America's creditors to start cashing those cheques—and what an awful lot of cheques there are to cash. As that process gathered pace, the dollar could tumble further and further. American bond yields (long-term interest rates) would soar, quite likely causing a deep recession. Americans who favour a weak dollar should be careful what they wish for. Cutting the budget deficit looks cheap at the price."

The chances of any real attempt to reduce the deficit are slim under the current administration. The administration is set on cutting taxes and increasing borrowing. Most if not all commentaries regarding the dollar look to reducing the deficit as a necessary step to reduce the dollars slide, yet the administration is set on increasing the deficit by financing its social-security debacle by borrowing the money, to the tune of billions of dollars. The idea of keeping the transition costs off the books entirely has been floated, which would put the Arthur Anderson slight-of-hand to shame.

The administration needs to change its fiscal policies and focus on the realistic solutions to the looming problems.
Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo reports on a piece in the Financial Times:
Thank President Bush (from the FT...)

Oil exporters have sharply reduced their exposure to the US dollar over the past three years, according to data from the Bank for International Settlements.

Members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries have cut the proportion of deposits held in dollars from 75 per cent in the third quarter of 2001 to 61.5 per cent.

Middle Eastern central banks have reportedly switched reserves from dollars to euros and sterling to avoid incurring losses as the dollar has fallen and prepare for a shift away from pricing oil exports in dollars alone.

Private Middle East investors are believed to be worried about the prospect of US-held assets being frozen as part of the war on terror, leading to accelerated dollar-selling after the re-election of President George W. Bush.

Thank you, thank you, a thousand thank yous.

-- Josh Marshall

Monday, December 06, 2004

Thomas Powers has a great article in the recent issue of the New York Review of Books on the role of the intelligence community in the lead-up to 9/11, the lead up to the Iraq war and the CIA's potential future.
"The fate of the agency is no minor matter to intelligence professionals who have spent their careers trying to serve both presidents and the nation; all know that these two masters are often at odds, and many have been forced to hire lawyers, face grand juries, and risk jail for what they did, or for failing to describe truthfully what they did, for presidents unable or unwilling to take the stand themselves. There is no easy way to reconcile these divided loyalties. But there are good reasons for trying to understand what has now brought the stresses to breaking point, especially for the analytical side of the CIA."

Here I think Powers hits on a point that has been often left unmentioned in public discussions, that the CIA and the intelligence community in general was correct in its assessment of the Iraq threat and the threat posed by bin Laden and Al Qaeda. In the rush to lay blame the CIA became the public whipping boy because the lop-level administrators went along with the President's wishes. Public and classified reports have long since backed up the point that the analysts were passing up good information, it just wasn't what the administration wanted to hear.
" But too little in my opinion has been said about what the CIA and Richard Clarke in the White House both got right—the numerous warnings delivered to the President and his national security advisers. Condoleezza Rice has said that these warnings were too vague and the President has said that he would have moved heaven and earth if he had only known when and where the terrorists planned to attack. The White House was paralyzed, the official version goes, because the intelligence organizations of the United States had failed to connect the dots....

But the fact is that the intelligence analysts who provided warnings to the White House connected a great many dots—they anticipated the use of commercial aircraft, they knew that al-Qaeda cells were operating inside the United States, they knew that Ramzi Yusef, the field commander of the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, had hoped to bring the towers down, and had promised an FBI debriefer after his arrest that another attempt would be made. They knew that al-Qaeda wanted to strike inside the United States, and they knew that al-Qaeda was approaching the operational climax of a new effort. In a sense all the most important dots had been loosely connected except for the last two or three.

The question then is whether an alert administration, anxious to protect the country, knew enough to do something—to give a dynamite charge to intelligence chiefs, or summon the officials responsible for public safety and disaster relief, or prod the Federal Aviation Administration to beef up security at airline gates, or ask the Immigration and Naturalization Service if borders were secure, or suggest to the FBI that suspected terrorist cells should be put on notice that they were being watched. Best might have been an attempt to put all those officials in a windowless room for a day with orders to report to the President personally before the sun went down. Presidents do not normally find it hard to get the attention of government offices, and bureaucrats all know how to put on a show of frantic activity. That, at the very least, is what we should have found when the lights went on after the attacks of September 11."

The difficult truth of the matter is that the administration failed to act on intelligence it was given. A year before Bush's inauguration, an attempted terrorist attack on L.A.'s airport was broken up (the so-called "millennium" plot) through good intelligence and a sharp-eyed border guard. To try and say, as the administration did, that they were unaware of the threat posed by these groups or that the information they did have means they were either unconcerned or incompetent. Deciding which is worse is hard to say. Since the top-level anti-terror specialists were all concerned and tried to make their voices heard, we can conclude that the information was right at their fingertips.

I don't think it would be fair or just to say that the administration's failures allowed 9/11 to happen. There is no way they could have predicted the time and place of the attack. Yet due to the existing threats and compelling intelligence their should have been some sort of plans in action, FAA warnings, greater surveilance, etc. As Powers points out, none of this was the case. Terrorism simply wasn't on the administrations to-do list.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Why the dollar is remaining fairly stable and there has been no general dumping of the dollar remains a mystery to Brad DeLong and, I assume, everyone else.
(1) Given all the reasons for the dollar to decline, who in their right mind is buying the current flow of dollar-denominated securities held overseas needed to finance America's current-account deficit? (2) Given all the reasons for the dollar to decline, why haven't all the private-sector overseas holders of the enormous stock of dollar-denominated assets dumped them yet? Kash provides an answer to question (1): his answer is, "Asian central banks." But the answer to question (2) remains a mystery to me--and to everyone else.

Perhaps the larger question is why has the administration not made any real attempt to forestall the coming dollar dive? There was some speculation that the administration was secretly hoping the weakened dollar would help its account deficit. Yet the largest deficit is in trade with China whose denomination is pegged to the dollar, so no help there. The general thought seems to be that the Asian countries have so much tied up in the dollar that even a slightly weaker dollar is better than a more volatile alternative. Yet the Financial Times is reporting continued talk by Asian banks considering trading in dollars for Euros or Sterling.

The dollar rebounded a bit today, so talk of a crashing dollar may be premature. Yet until the administration starts working on paring down the deficits, investors will continue to shy away from the dollar. Given the President's stated goals for Social Security and the creative accounting they are going to use to achieve their ends, its doubtful there will much of a rally.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

More fun with the dollar. From the Financial Times today:
The US dollar fell to a fresh low against the euro on Tuesday, breaching the $1.31 barrier for the first time.

The cataylst was a hint from the Russian central bank that it plans to step up its policy of switching its foreign exchange reserves into euros, at the expense of the dollar…

…More importantly, the Russian comments highlighted the prospect of Asian central banks with larger reserves following suit. China has an estimated 80 per cent of its $515bn of reserves in dollars, while Middle Eastern central banks were rumoured to be selling dollars and buying sterling on Tuesday.

…The greenback also fell 0.6 per cent to a fresh eight-year low of SFr1.1564 against the Swiss franc, 0.7 per cent to a nine-month low of A$0.7877 against the Australian dollar, 0.7 per cent to a four-month low of $1.8726 against sterling and 0.9 per cent to a seven-month low of Rbs28.49 against the rouble itself.

Atrios has a report that Morgan Stanley's chief economist Stephen Roach has been privately warning of an economic meltdown.
His prediction: America has no better than a 10 percent chance of avoiding economic ``armageddon.''

Press were not allowed into the meetings. But the Herald has obtained a copy of Roach's presentation. A stunned source who was at one meeting said, ``it struck me how extreme he was - much more, it seemed to me, than in public.''

Roach sees a 30 percent chance of a slump soon and a 60 percent chance that ``we'll muddle through for a while and delay the eventual armageddon.''
The long and short term results of a collapse in the dollar vary depending on who you talk to, but this much is certain, it would be a rough ride. Investors across the globe will lose money as the dollar loses value, foreign banks and other investors will be less likely to let us borrow money and essential imports like oil will jump in price.

For an administration that has no intentions of trying to wean our dependance on oil, even the slightest, which choses to fund the government through heavy borrowing, and which is paying little or no attention to the analysts and experts across the globe who are trying to warn them that their policies are driving this decline; this will be a nasty wake-up call.

The reality of the situation combined with the inexplicable refusal to re-evaluate its policies means that this administration may just drive us into the ground while claiming everything is pie in the sky.

Monday, November 22, 2004

Tom Shales has a great piece in the Washington Post about FCC Chairman Michael Powell's "indecency" crusade. An excerpt:
The madness reached its appalling apotheosis on Veterans Day: Sixty-five of ABC's 220 owned or affiliated stations declined to air the universally praised Steven Spielberg film "Saving Private Ryan," about American heroes of World War II, because the verboten F-word is spoken several times, and the FCC now fines stations sometimes astronomical amounts if even a few people file complaints over what they have heard.

This means Spielberg's acclaimed Holocaust film, "Schindler's List," cannot be shown again on a broadcast network because it, too, contains unpleasant language and, of course, graphic violence. See, it's about the Nazis, and they tended to be a little pushy. But realism is no defense, artistic excellence is no defense, even a consensus that the program in question constitutes a public service is no defense. (By contractual agreement, Spielberg's films must be shown without deletions or alterations.)
The whole article is worth reading.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

Breaking open the "Investor Class" myth( via Matthew Yglesias). I think many people know this in general, but it's nice to put some numbers to the fact that the tax cuts aimed at the "investor class" will benefit the most wealthy among us. The argument is that there are more and more middle-class families with investments and that eliminating income tax on corporate dividends will benefit them and help the ranks of the invested grow.

This quick rundown by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities breaks down who receives income from corporate dividends and how much. It's pretty easy to see who will benefit the most, and its not the middle-class investor.

It's worth some time to read through some of the Center's Reports. It doesn't take long to start seeing some light through the administration's fiscal rhetoric.
AchPundit asks a good question, one that seems to be left behind in some of the process coverage of the DeLay debacle.
DeLay and the others deserve their day in court, but trying to dismiss this as politically motivated is nothing more than ignoring his many ethical lapses in the past.

If DeLay is never indicted, then this was unnecessary, though telling act. If he is, why do Republicans want him as their Leader?

This whole debate stinks of the worst sort of corruption, that of the corrupting influence of power. This isn't about money, although it is certainly one of the tools of the trade, but its importance is its ability to wield power. Those who control the money can control the future of the local politicians trying to make it in state and local elections (the Democratic anger at the discovery that Kerry has $15 million in unspent funds in the bank and made no effort to use it to help down-ticket races is a perfect example).

DeLay is one of the most powerful politicians in memory, not for his power or his ability to write essential legislation, but for his ability to wield his power. Something he does often and with little concern for the mess he makes. His control over the party machine, his expertise in reworking house rules for his advantage and his power over the purse give him almost unchecked reign.

The evidence of this is the rather timid nature in which House Republicans who have objected to the rules change have stated their opposition. Josh Marshall has been documenting some of the ways in which House Republicans have "stood up" to DeLay. Who's talking and who's not(scroll up). Some have announced their opposition, some say they will only respond to questions from constituents, many have simply tried not to answer the phone or have been "indisposed" since before the vote.

The Republicans know this looks bad. There is almost no way they can spin this as being an attempt to avoid, "criminalizing politics," as Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) has claimed. The vote was taken in secret so as to give the members denyability. Fortunately thanks to Josh Marshall and others, this is very thin cover. There have been numerous claims that the rules change is hypocrisy at its finest. It was put in place to try and shame the Democrats in the mid-90's who had such corrupt House Leaders as Rep. Dan Rostenkowski (D-Il). Now, with the potential of a DeLay indictment (no one knows if it will happen or not, but the fact that the Republicans would make such a change may indicate that something is coming down the pike) the Republicans have abandoned their own moral high ground.

Which brings us back to our original point, if he is indicted and he maintains his leadership position, what does that say about the Republicans? It makes one wonder if this obviously self-preservationist move may cause DeLay to lose support. Certainly he has enormous power, but at what point does he simply become a liability? The corrupt politician meme is hard to battle when your leadership is under indictment.

Voters often expect a certain amount of self-serving from their politicians, even accusations of corruption and illegal activities are sometimes overlooked for one reason or another. Two famous examples were Gov. Huey "The Kingfish of Louisiana" Long and Massachusetts politician James Curley who was re-elected while in jail for fraud. Recently Marion Barry, former mayor of the District of Columbia was elected to the D.C. district council even after being indicted for possession of crack cocaine. Many of these politicians were colorful characters who, although corrupt, provided something to the voters that they were unable to get otherwise. They were tolerated if not sometimes celebrated.

Yet the kind of hubris and shamelessness exhibited by DeLay and some of his former aides and associates is verging on the incredible. Two of DeLay's former aides were recently indicted for, in essence, bribery. They managed to help close some Indian casinos and then approached the tribe involved offering to try and get their casinos re-opened for the low price of $4 million bucks. That is a shakedown.

DeLay himself has received several ethics admonishments in the House for his actions in the redistricting effort in Texas, which is also the focus of the DA's investigation.

For a party that ran on a platform of moral values, a consistent pattern of corruption and hubris is not likely to fly well for long. There are numerous good Republicans serving in Congress at the moment. Moderate Republicans who are working to help their constituents, not simply establish a permanent majority, whatever the cost. These Republicans need to stand up and denounce the actions of the few among the leadership who will, if unchecked, run their party into the ground.
The Stakeholder has a good rundown on the case against Tom DeLay in Texas. It seems that there are some pretty hard-and-fast laws in Texas when it comes to corporate contributions in state elections; they can't. DeLay's problems stem from the fact that he spent a good deal of time and effort to find ways around the law. The question on everyone's mind is will DeLay be indicted personally. The PAC that he founded got into trouble for laundering money through the RNC, there were several DeLay associates indicted in those cases. DeLay himself was involved in pressuring out-of-state companies to donate to campaigns one case in which he received an admonishment from the ethics committee.

This all leads up to the recent decision to change the Republican's own leadership rules so that DeLay can continue to serve even if he is indicted.

The whole mess is even further complicated by the fact that DeLay's cronies in Texas may attempt to go after the prosecutor investigating the situation, Ron Earl, through redistricting and other structural techniques.

When these guys play, they play for keeps.
Just when I start saying good things about the National Review, Ramesh Ponnuru has to write something like this on their blog.
TAX REFORM [Ramesh Ponnuru]
I'd been hearing, even before the election, that the administration was looking at getting rid of the deduction for state and local taxes as part of its tax-reform package. I'm all for the policy: Why should low-tax states subsidize high-tax ones? Why should the federal government encourage states to have high taxes? But didn't tax reformers get their heads handed to them over this precise issue in 1985-86? Of course, there were more New York Republicans then to worry about.

The administration is also apparently looking at taxing employer-provided health insurance. Again, a good policy: that tax break has done a lot of damage to health-care markets over the years. And anyone who wants to get rid of the alternative minimum tax without swelling the deficit has to look at taxing health insurance: It's one of the few tax breaks that can generate the necessary funds. But again, there are obvious political risks here.
Posted at 11:40 AM

As to the first point of who subsidizes who, there seems to be plenty of evidence that in general the Blue States receive less money from the Federal Government than they give, while the Red States tend to receive more than they give. TaxProfBlog gives a good rundown of the Tax Foundation's report on this subject.
The report shows that of the 32 states (and the District of Columbia) that are "winners" -- receiving more in federal spending than they pay in federal taxes -- 76% are Red States that voted for George Bush in 2000. Indeed, 17 of the 20 (85%) states receiving the most federal spending per dollar of federal taxes paid are Red States. Here are the Top 10 states that feed at the federal trough (with Red States highlighted in bold):
States Receiving Most in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. D.C. ($6.17)
2. North Dakota ($2.03)
3. New Mexico ($1.89)
4. Mississippi ($1.84)
5. Alaska ($1.82)
6. West Virginia ($1.74)
7. Montana ($1.64)
8. Alabama ($1.61)
9. South Dakota ($1.59)
10. Arkansas ($1.53)

In contrast, of the 16 states that are "losers" -- receiving less in federal spending than they pay in federal taxes -- 69% are Blue States that voted for Al Gore in 2000. Indeed, 11 of the 14 (79%) of the states receiving the least federal spending per dollar of federal taxes paid are Blue States. Here are the Top 10 states that supply feed for the federal trough (with Blue States highlighted in bold):
States Receiving Least in Federal Spending Per Dollar of Federal Taxes Paid:
1. New Jersey ($0.62)
2. Connecticut ($0.64)
3. New Hampshire ($0.68)
4. Nevada ($0.73)
5. Illinois ($0.77)
6. Minnesota ($0.77)
7. Colorado ($0.79)
8. Massachusetts ($0.79)
9. California ($0.81)
10. New York ($0.81)

As for his assertion that the employer health care tax break is screwing up the market, I can't make much of that. However, I can tell you, if that goes, so does millions of workers' health care.
Laura Rozen over at War and Piece has a copy of the Goss memo to the CIA.

The paragraph that has raised eyebrows:
I want everyone in our workforce to know - I seek to encourage and expect the best from everyone in CIA. Our country demands it, our President needs it, and this institution deserves it. I also intend to clarify beyond doubt the rules of the road. We support the Administration and its policies in our work. As Agency employees we do not identify with, support, or champion opposition to the Administration or its policies. We provide the intelligence as we see it - and let the facts alone speak to the policymaker.

Goss has asserted that the statement was taken out of context. Yet the context of the paragraph makes it pretty clear. Read the whole memo and it becomes even more clear that the intention was exactly what critics have said, no dissent will be tolerated.

While I can understand the desire to want to cut down on possible leaks and controlling media access to agents, the statement sounds like they plan on only presenting information that will support the administrations decision. Picking an outcome and then finding facts to back it up is an awful way to run an intelligence operation. It's how this whole mess in Iraq got started. It'll be quick, we'll be welcomed and we'll install our guy Chalabi who will be accepted because he's an Iraqi. That worked out well didn't it.

In fact, it was the dissenting voices in the CIA who will most likely feel the brunt of the coming changes. Those who said, correctly, that the administration's expectations for the post-war period were completely wrong and things will go sideways pretty quickly. It is this crew of "realists" rather than "supporters" that did most of the leaking. Not to harm anyone, but to exhibit that whatever is going on at the top of the chain and in the White House, we told you Iraq would devolve the way it has and you ignored us.

It's a bit of payback, but it is also a cry for help. They need help to escape the politicization that has occurred under Bush. The appointment of Goss and the signals he has given illustrate that they can only expect more of the same.
I think this statement from Rep John Dingell (D-MI) sums up the DeLay Bill situation very nicely (via Josh Marshall):
"These folks talk about values and decency, but then think it’s okay to change the rules once it appears one of their own may have broken them. This amounts to a work release program for the ethically challenged. We should all remember that a decade ago, Mr. DeLay helped to create this rule. Republicans said at the time they were the party of reform and good government. Now they’ve become the party of moribund hubris."

I especially like that "moribund hubris" line.

Marshall also has been doing a rundown of the Republicans who voted against this rule change. While they still support the party, they do deserve a pat on the back for not being complete cads.

Josh also does a good job of playing out the possible scenario that would develop if DeLay were indicted and convicted. If the Republican party is already willing to take this step, can letting a convicted criminal serve be far behind? This all depends on the possible indictment of course, but given this latest step, do they know something's coming down the pike?

Check it out over at Talking Points Memo.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

Economist Brad Delong posted an excerpt from an article he and Steven Cohen are working on for the Atlantic Monthly.
Steve Cohen and I are thrashing about, trying to write a piece about corporate welfare capitalism and the future of social insurance for the Atlantic Monthly. We are treading in the footsteps of Peter Gosselin of the LA Times and Jacob Hacker:

In the opening the article hits on something I have been talking about for a while now. This fascination with the post-WWII period and the fetishization that goes along with it. This is most often found in Republican and/or aged circles. The belief that the period was a perfect period of growth, stability and exemplar of the true American values. Often this is combined with a belief that if people would just stop complaining and get a job we could return to that idillic period.

DeLong's piece highlights something that needs to be repeated in order to burst this modern mythology
This post-World-War-II period stands as a reference point in our collective memory of our economic history as one of rapid growth and shared prosperity. It lingers in our national memory, and remains an important source of confidence in the unity of our culture and the awesome power of our economy. But although it serves as a baseline for our economic expectations, our sense of "the way things ought to be," in reality the post-war era was in all likelihood an aberration, a period marked by a confluence of events never before seen in our history, and unlikely to be seen again
Its not that we shouldn't strive for the ideal that many see in that period, but that is must be seen honestly for what it was, a lucky break. What should also be acknowledged were the cultural and social upheavals underway at the time. It is often believed that the civil rights movement was a late-60's phenomenon, but it had been underway for generations and the 50's were no exception.
In 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously rules in Brown v. Board of Education that public school segregation violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and in 1955 orders that desegregation proceed "with all deliberate speed." The murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi in 1955 receives prominent coverage in the press. In December 1955, the year-long Montgomery bus boycott begins; its eventual success demonstrates the potential of nonviolent mass action and brings the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. to national attention.

Resistance to school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957 causes President Eisenhower to dispatch more than 1,000 paratroopers to enforce a federal court order as an estimated 200 reporters cover the events. Congress passes the first federal civil rights act since Reconstruction, but only after it is weakened by Southern opposition. In 1959, a television documentary on the Nation of Islam brings Malcolm X to wider public attention.
And these are just the civil rights highlights. (From The Library of America's: Reporting Civil Rights.)

In order to move forward we must learn from, not mythologize our past. DeLong and Cohen's piece seems to try and do just that by examining the role of corporate welfare and social insurance through the years. I look forward to reading it.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Yet more strange electoral math from the "liberal media" via Nick Confessore at Tapped and Josh Marshall atTalking Points Memo.

Yet again, those on the right are asserting that without a large block of its base, the Democratic party would prove no threat to Bush. So, in other words, if you have fewer members you...have fewer members? How these inane lines of thought get out are baffling to me. Even more so is the fact that this is another line that we will find repeated by the Republican pundits. Inevitably, Brooks will pick it up as more proof that the Dems need to look away from the cities and expand into the surrounding area. Despite the fact that the statement makes as much sense as saying, "without rural voters, Kerry would have crushed Bush."

Wait for it.
Certainly the CIA as well as other intelligence agencies needed some overhaull, but a gutting of the CIA using loyalty to the President as the bar should raise serious questions by even the most partisan of people.
WASHINGTON -- The White House has ordered the new CIA director, Porter Goss, to purge the agency of officers believed to have been disloyal to President George W. Bush or of leaking damaging information to the media about the conduct of the Iraq war and the hunt for Osama bin Laden, according to knowledgeable sources.

"The agency is being purged on instructions from the White House," said a former senior CIA official who maintains close ties to both the agency and to the White House. "Goss was given instructions ... to get rid of those soft leakers and liberal Democrats. The CIA is looked on by the White House as a hotbed of liberals and people who have been obstructing the president's agenda."

To most observers this move is at the same time unsurprising as it is unbelievable. With the appointment of Porter Goss the accelerated politicization of the CIA was expected, but such a wide-spread housecleaning is hard to believe.

This move clearly illustrates what critics of the administration's governing style have been saying for years. Rather than forcing its policies to stand up to criticism and examination in order to isolate and fix problems, the administration simply wants loyal members to sign off on its plans. The style reflects repeated conservative criticism of university professors and scientists. Those two groups constantly submit their ideas and analysis to knowledgeable peers in their field for criticism. If their work does not stand up to criticism, it doesn't get published. Put out too much bad work, you lose your job. Its a constantly self-inspecting system (it's far from perfect, of course, bad work does get out on a regular basis, but there is a system in place that in the majority of cases assures that the work that does go out has passed some "reality-based" tests.). Such evaluation systems are kryptonite to this White House.

This is of an especially critical nature due to the fact that we are tinkering with the essential intelligence gathering field. If the gatherers are afraid to push pass along bad news due to fear of retribution from superiors because the analysis does not reflect the politically accepted world-view than the situation will become very bad, very quickly.

The military and intelligence community has been fighting to remove this sort of interference from its systems since the dark days of Vietnam, it is not a period I believe they would want to return to.
Changing the rules of the road. As the Republicans gain more and more control in the Senate, expect new rule changes to come into effect. The recent push has been to try and eliminate the filibuster, or at the least vilify its use as an impediment to Democracy. Yet at the same time the Republicans in the Senate are happy to change the rules to their advantage, thus denying the Democrats any other procedural methods to counter the Republican's agenda.

Don't let anyone tell you different, the Senate is not a zero-sum institution. Just because you control +%50 of the Senate does not mean you manage it as if you own it. The Congress is meant to be a place where policy can be discussed and the states and the people can have a voice in how the government goes about its business. Under the Republicans it has become a place to punish those who disagree with them. Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Penn) found this after he publicly voiced opposition to strong anti-Roe judicial nominees. Sen. Specter has been no friend to liberals, but has been consistently pro-choice. He has since been in full apology mode in order to try and maintain the possibility of Chairman.

From AP/CNN via Josh Marshall:
Sen. Arlen Specter must prove to his Republican colleagues that he is the right man to head the Senate Judiciary Committee in the next Congress, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist said Sunday.

Frist, R-Tennessee, would not say if he backed Specter, R-Pennsylvania, for the job. Specter will make his case to GOP colleagues this week when Congress returns for a postelection session.

This is what the Republicans do to their own.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The recent debate over the effect of the religious right on the GOP and the administration has started me wondering about the possibility of a split in the Republican party. The question centers around whether the GOP will go back to its modern corporate-sponsored roots, or if it will begin to give more voice to the christian right who believe that they won the election for Bush. The christian right, led by folks like James Dobson, certainly feels they are owed. They no longer want to be merely foot-soldiers, but king makers.

Yet as Kevin Drum pointed out the other day, the "values"-oriented campaign themes have taken a back seat to what seem to be the administration's priorities. The first few topics President Bush has focused on have been social security reform, tax cuts and oil. These are all topics of greatest interest to the fiscally-oriented Republicans. If the President has a "mandate" and intends on spending his political capital, are these the issues the christian right was expecting him to be focusing on? I have my doubts. As an article on Daily Kos points out, the President is already encountering resistance in the legislature to some of his plans. In this case its immigration reform. It involves a moderate program (in relation to the conservative no-tolerance position) that seeks to allow guest workers in from Mexico, a program conservatives hate.

Former GOP consultant Arthur Finkelstein believed the Bush campaign strategy split the country on cultural and religious lines and invested the christian right with an importance and value that exceeds their actual influence. He believes the Republicans have saddled themselves with a group that could potentially be the decisive faction in upcoming elections. The christian right certainly believes they are the decisive players for the future.

It's going to take some time to figure out how much of an influence they do have as new appointments are made, legislative committees are reshuffled and the legislative session starts back up. One case that may serve as an early guide is the replacement of John Ashcroft with Alberto Gonzales. Ashcroft was a friend to the christian right, while many conservatives oppose Gonzales for being soft on abortion rights. Gonzales, however, is a long-time associate of the Bush family and has been very helpful as the White House Chief Consul in furthering the administration's foreign policy objectives (Gonzales was the author of the controversial memos stating how the administration could avoid adhering to the Geneva Conventions, this over the outrage and protest of the military. A group that will be most affected by any changes in international war law). The debate over Gonzales has already begun.

The current debate has led me to wonder about the possibility of a split in the Republican Party. The christian right is very vocal and tend to vote as a group. An administration that does not sufficiently kowtow to their wishes, may find themselves on the sharp end of their ideology as Sen. Specter (R-Penn) found out last week. Sen. Specter, who is in line to be Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, publicly warned (unwisely) President Bush not to push on any anti-choice judges. The christian right's retribution was fast and furious. James Dobson, of the christian right group Focus on the Family, said on ABC's This Week that Sen. Specter needs to be "derailed." The hits came fast and furious and Specter has since publicly groveled for absolution. Even if he survives and is named Chairman, its doubtful he will cause much trouble for the administration.

Sen. Specter has been no friend to Democrats and is hardly much of a moderate, yet even he received the lash for stepping out of line, and into the sights of the newly-emboldened christian right. If this pattern continues, the moderate Republicans may quickly lose their patience with the christian right. The President himself may soon come under fire from them as well. A vocal, motivated and substantial fraction of a party may not tolerate not being pushed to the side for long.

The surprising enthusiasm for Judge Roy Moore (who has become a sort of christian-right folk hero) early in the year may indicate that the christian right may not wait for the party to come around. Judge Moore became a hero to the christian right when he refused to remove, as ordered by a federal judge, the 2.6 ton ten commandments monument he had installed in the atrium of the Alabama Supreme Court. The monument was soon removed by the state, as was Judge Moore. However, it was a federal ruling that finally removed the monument, thus confirming for the christian right that the federal judiciary was godless and cementing Moore's credentials with them. Moore openly intimated he was thinking of challenging Bush, and there were plenty of christians lining up to support him.

The Republicans will ignore the will of the christian right at their peril. The newfound influence of the christian right may not, as Finkelstein thought, elevate them to king-makers, but may actually split the Republicans into two camps, fighting it out for control of the party.