Monday, August 28, 2006

So this is nothing I have spent time thinking about ...

I have some idea I want to essay about the effect of education tax credits, but the 53 plus hour work weeks I have been having have other ideas. Meanwhile, though, I want to say something clearly that others have only murmured about. On the anniversary of Katrina, we ought to be further along in rebuilding it. The official line is that navigating bureaucracy takes times and that is so, but most people who navigate it can plan accordingly. The people of the gulf coast have far fewer facilities and infrastructure to meet bureaucratic rules. The thing is, I have spent just enough time interning to know that if projects become priorities, they will be accomplished. If the president had made one visit a month to New Orleans and/or Mississippi for the last year, and gone to places where things were not happening, then things would have happened. I am not absolutely sure about the motives of the republicans in this case, but I guess last winter they calculated that delaying was an ok idea (maybe no one expected the president’s numbers to go so low). I mean, Bill Frist or other republicans with presidential aspirations would have been wise to take high profile trips to the coast, but of course they would have had to tread lightly to avoid being sucked into blame for the original fiasco. I am assuming that high ranking democrats (Kerry, H Clinton) did not go for two reasons. First, the agencies involved (sensing which way the wind is blowing at least until November, if not for two more years) might make a show of not paying attention to the high ranking democrat. The other, more ugly reason, is that the democrats may want to have something concrete (or muddy, perhaps) to point to in November. This may be on reason why the three most prominent democratic ex-officials, W Clinton, Gore and Edwards, also have not recently made trips to New Orleans (that I know of).

Let me repeat it for clarity. If the president had made one visit a month for twelve months to the gulf coast, it would be a different place. It would be cleaned up and the federal money for rebuilding would be there. The president has the time (I believe) and it is one place where his mere presence would accomplish all that could be accomplished. I do not think it is too much in this case to say that the republicans do want New Orleans to look different than it looked before, in racial make up. And I think voters are going to start to think that, undermining the case the republicans make that they are the party of the majority.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Hamas and Israel in the NYT

This OpEd piece in the NYT ( sort of supports the points I was making before, about Hamas getting ready to make an agreement with Israel before all this started. This guy is a lot more informed than I am, and quite probably smarter. The piece might require an online subscription thingie (sorry).

2 asides

Two sort of ill formed ideas … First, in Maureen Dowd’s column yesterday she expressed amazement (at length) at the report that Bush was reading Camus. It does seem strange, but I will say that I can’t help but think of the reports that our relations with France are quite good right now. France of course has good relations with several Middle Eastern countries, and is part of the lead in facilitating the end to this Lebanon thing. Actually, it seems like both France and Britain are working in a quite practical manner on the problems surrounding terror, oil and the Middle East. Fairly promising actually.

I think we will have trouble getting Germany too involved with us, after the President’s inappropriate contact with their Prime Minister (it's probably all she can do to hold back her fellow valkyrie’s; heh).

The other thing: There are some comedic devices I really like. One is Mystery Science Theatre editorializing puppets (and human). I realize they watch a movie ahead of time, but boy, I wish I was that clever. But my latest favorite device is on the Colbert Report, the “bullet point” that is the scene stealer of “The Word”. Bullet point is the perfect smart aleck, liberal foil to Colbert’s pseudo conservative. I would love to have a bullet point going, where you can shoot off the asides without breaking stride. I have also used parenthesis that way, and lately I am getting worse. Maybe it’s something I will grow out of …(or drift away from) (d’oh, a parenthesis) (another thing I do, in person : d’oh!) …

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

One more thing ...

The site of Hezbollah claiming victory reminds me of where this is going to go, eventually, assuming no terrorists get a nuke and kill a lot of Israelis and Palestinians. Victory? Not for the Lebanese. I mean, how can Israel not fight back if rockets are falling on them? Hezbollah brought this on the Lebanese people, and eventually the people will figure that out, and ask Hezbollah to stop. The Palestinians have already gotten close to this point. As I pointed out earlier, Hamas was poised to sign an agreement with Israel when spoilers stepped in. It makes perfect sense, it is a “Only Nixon could go to China” approach. If Hamas, among the worst of the worst terror groups, makes, well not peace but non-war with Israel like Nixon did with China, it must be a good agreement. Instant legitimacy. Part of the reason Hamas wanted to get elected and why people wanted to elect Hamas. It should happen some time, maybe soon, but I am feeling a sense of inevitability as the people of the middle east, tried of the silliness and death, urge their leaders toward rationality, mostly in spite of our “help”.

Still tooting my own horn ...

My (quarterly) letter did get printed today in the PG. If I have to go only once every three months (so to speak), I think an environmental theme is the way to go.
If you read it online, you can click to the letter I was commenting on, after which my letter might make a little more sense (maybe).

What if the alarms were turned off at the Watergate?

*I* haven’t noticed anyone talking about why specifically it’s a bad thing that the Bush administration is attempting to broaden their powers at the expense of our freedoms. Lots of generic complaints, but no specifics about real people. I think polling data reflects this, I kinda remember polling results showing a majority of people ok with the idea of giving up privacy rights if the goal is to spy on terrorists. Of course, the rights that are given up are nebulous things like Judicial and Legislative oversight. These ideas don’t mean much to average people, so why haven’t liberals given some concrete hypothetical’s (besides the fact that “concrete hypothetical” is an oxymoron)?
Suppose an NSA staffer decides to stalk an ex? Who would catch him/her? Suppose an NSA staffer, hired in the ‘90’s (democrat), decides to spy on prominent republicans, digs up or even manufactures some dirt, and send it off to Howard Dean (who screams with delight). There is no outside group to make sure to catch that kind of thing, and republican members of congress are too busy running everything to be able to devote the kind of attention needed (because those democrats are being so obstructionist). Putting it that way is a way of saying, hey, republicans, we care enough about you to want to protect you. Sure, nobody believes that, but it becomes harder to dismiss the concern about rights as simple democrat hysteria. Another way I think of it, without editorial comment, is to ask what would have happened if there were no alarms at the Watergate, no security guards patrolling in 1972? At least we wouldn’t have the word “gate” stuck on the end of every scandal. So we still need or need to restore those silly legislative or judicial oversight mechanisms.
Seriously, there is only a little outcry that we have prisoners being held indefinitely without trial in Cuba (not even over the irony of doing that in a communist country). Clearly a lot of people are thinking something like that any middle easterner we pick up must be guilty of something, our troops wouldn’t (deliberately) make a mistake. Also, detention by the US is probably no worse than their normal life. We need to be talking about some 1984-type stories, that is, coming up with some hypothetical’s that could fit into everyday life, to get people thinking differently. This should be more possible in the next few months as people start thinking about upcoming elections.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Who is the Iraq war holy for?

I think other people have covered this, but I want to take a run at it anyway.

I think some of the cold warriors must have become neo-cons at some point. Well, obviously, as a function of being in government and a particular political party over time, but there is something I am getting at. The function of opposing communism and promoting capitalism/democracy must have really worked its way into the subconscious of some conservatives. To put it another way, what is the difference between (a) offering democracy as an alternative and (b) believing that people should be able to live in a free, democratic society? In fact, what is the difference between (a) believing that democracy is the natural state of an industrialized or service economy and (b) believing that people should be able to live in a free, democratic society? Well, it might be the difference between the policies of a democrat or liberal like Clinton (a) and the policies of a republican or conservative like Bush (b). The (a) philosophy admits the possibility that a majority of a people living inside a set of State borders may choose not to live in a democratic country, even if it is offered to them, because they value a government that offers them security or a religious structure, say. The (b) philosophy rejects this notion as running against human nature. When you add the connection to the president’s religious beliefs in there, you end up with a fairly inflexible policy, the stay the course policy. Even the use of the relatively small number of troops might be explained in this context, as a people who are naturally yearning to be free should not need a large number of policemen. The President was never a cold warrior (well, I’m not sure how to take the Air National Guard thing, but the cold war was over by the time the President first took political office). His father was, though, and I think some of the father’s beliefs were quietly embraced by the son as intimately as the son’s religious beliefs. The notion of Iraq is the place where he and the conservatives have invested their hopes for the redemption of America, where victory will set in motion the process that will free us from the fear of future terrorist attacks. No wonder the reaction of conservatives against liberals, accusing them of giving aid and comfort to the enemy or even of treason. Liberals questioning this policy is a lot like insulting conservatives’ (or at least Bush’s) religion.

Besides Bush, other top men in the administration were in fact cold warriors, quite possibly of the realpolitik vein, but for whom there are some unquestionable core beliefs. I say this because otherwise I can’t understand the administration’s blind eye to some of the problems that have occurred with corruption and ineptitude, in Iraq and also here in the US. The cold war became a time of calculated decisions, of working with the distasteful and making hard choices. People in the Pentagon must have decided that working with Iraqis means making bribes and that likewise some corruption on the part of US civilian contractors is a way of compensating them more fairly (for danger perhaps) than the official system allows. Positing this kind of cognitive dissonance allows us to believe that people in the Pentagon have not simply decided to steal from taxpayers.

The way I see it, though, the people at the very top, and many of our soldiers and some pundits are true believers, who avoid even the tortured logic those in the Pentagon must navigate in the war on terror. That Communism has been replaced by “Islamic Fascism” as the force literally trying to destroy the west and take over the world is a topic for another post. The antagonism of conservatives towards liberals can be understood though this prism, though.

Friday, August 11, 2006

PG and NYT

So I'm boasting here, but trying to hide it in corrections.

I put a post in the Opinionator in the Times yesterday ( Well, it is their most interactive section, and they had a post about how a former British Press secretary thinks a British policeman is doing, in terms of how he looks to the terrorists. This is just as silly as it sounds. I started with a John Foster Dulles anecdote about how he kept a copy of Das Kapital on his desk to try to understand the Soviets.

I don’t remember whether it was Kapital or some book by Lenin on Theory and Practice, or what. I read it some place probably twenty years ago. The point is, Dulles thought the Soviets were guided by communist principles, when really the most that would be true is that they framed their decisions in communist language.

I hope no one gets hung up on Kapital, if that turns out to be wrong. I refuse to Google it.

An editor from the PG editorial board called me last night. I had wasted no time in composing a quarterly letter (PG letter writing policy, no letter less than three months apart: my quarterly letter). If I had waited, I could have said something clever about terrorists. But I went after a letter written by a Ken Boyer ( He was part of a chain of letters on SUV’s, where he preemptively accused environmentalists of attacking his need for an SUV. His letter mentioned (and I paraphrase) god's gift of five children so far. My wife was disgruntled that I had written yet another letter to the PG, but when she read Mr Boyer’s letter, she was ready to say something herself. My letter ran long, because I wanted to establish the connection between the sacred and environmentalism. If my letter gets published but edited, I will post the original here. Really, I think that even an existentialist, with their high bar for morality, might accept that.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Israel and Hezbollah

This bit was going to be at the bottom of my previous post, but that was too much at one time.

SO our situation vis a vis the generic terrorists has taken on a eerie parallel with Israel’s vis a vis Hezbollah’s. We face an inscrutable enemy, whose motivations we do not understand and whose (largely unstated) demands we can not meet, even if we were inclined to negotiate. So we have to hunt down the terrorists, whose ability to intermingle with innocents leaves us with a real chance of causing “collateral” damage. Ditto (of course) everything for Israel.
Israel simply can’t stand by and let Hezbollah launch random rockets at them, even if the risk of mortality per rocket is low. But Hezbollah do not wear uniforms, so the Israelis are getting Lebanese too.
Does anyone remember that before the kidnapping of the Israeli solider in the Gaza, the Palestinian government, essentially the Gaza part of Hamas, was going to sign an agreement with Israel about the peace process. This signing would have been pretty significant because it would have amounted to Hamas acknowledging Israel as a State, and close to Israel’s right to exist. The Israeli and the Palestinian people are tired, and want peace. But they still have buttons, and the Syrian part of Hamas apparently ordered the kidnapping. Spoilers. Then Hezbollah stepped in. But at some point I expect there to be peace in the middle east, the citizens are demanding it.
Meanwhile, on our front, at some point we are going to start profiling. I wonder how much the CIA and NSA were in on the British thing. After all, we could conduct warrant-less searches on English soil, and then leave the information on the desk while we went down the hall…

9/11 changed everything, what's changed now

Sometime, maybe in a day or two, I have to write about the Mayor and machinations.

So, the unimpeachable British have stopped a terrorist plot. Did the market drop because it just got a lot harder to know what Congress will look like next January? My personal guess was that the Bush administration was going to pull Osama out of hiding, but maybe they are saving that for ’08. As an aside, which would you rather have, evil Machiavellian geniuses running the country, or clueless incompetents ruining it? Of course, the utterly ruthless Soviets could not stop the Afghan resistance, so maybe it is as hard as conservatives say to fight in the mountains.

But anyway, now should we react to the news from British Air (so to speak)? The administration now can say “we told you so”. How to handle it if you are, say, Rick Santorum? I dunno, since I dunno what Casey thinks of Iraq?

OK, I just looked (at Casey’s website) and it is a wishy-washy “we need an exit strategy” statement. In general, though, the republicans are going to position themselves as the national security party, and the Democrats will thrash in response. Actually, Ned Lamont’s victory suddenly gives the democrats a problem. Iraq, of course, should have (almost) nothing to do with terrorism. But that is the sort of complication anxious people want to avoid. Much easier to listen to the person who talks about handling it all, about fighting people who must be terrorists in Iraq, so they don’t get on airplanes in America with bottles of explosive shampoo.

A different aside, anyone who has ever seen a James Bond movie immediately accepts the premise of explosive shampoo.

So the republicans just got a security issue. Someone clever might ask why the NSA, tracking international phone calls, money transfers and purchases of English shampoo, decided to let the English take the credit? Since it is unthinkable that they might not know (see above: genius versus incompetent). Then the question is whether the Fed stopped raising interest rates soon enough to take the economy out of the mid-term equation.

It surely is no accident that Milton Friedman talks about expectations, since he is a monetarist. Fiscal policy generally has an immediate or at least defined effect. Sure, sometimes we are surprised by increased tax revenue after tax cuts, but mostly if you raise taxes people are grumpy and if you spend money on bridges or schools construction workers or teachers are happy and spend. By comparison, monetary policy is pretty murky. I mean, it starts simple, reduce interest rates and companies borrow more because the money is cheaper. The borrowed money is spent and the economy gets a lift. But if the economy gets a lift, does that mean the value of stocks goes up? Does the price? How does that relate to the rate of return for stocks, ie, their effect interest rate? If the Fed reduces interest rates for borrowing from the Fed, is that increasing the money supply? How does that effect the value of money? If the economy is “heating up”, does that mean the increased spending is causing inflation, or is it the value of money thing, or does it have to do with the value/rate of return of stocks (which is also increases the money supply if the price of stocks goes up, because now stockholders have more money?). I think I understand that if the Fed raises rates, the amount of money available for borrowing goes down, and businesses refrain from starting as many new projects, affecting consumer spending and slowing economic growth (for at least a couple of reasons).

And then you have to ask how much of this is predicted by markets and businesses, and how much do they react to when it happens? And how long that reaction takes? And whether businesses react only to increases or decreases in the fed interest rate, or whether they react to a stop in a pattern of increases or decreases, or to a “pause”.

I feel better about sounding stupid above because I know a lot of smart people study the Fed and only manage to ask my questions in a smarter fashion. As I said, I know expectations play a role, and we don’t know when or even whether the economy will react to the Fed’s pause. Is it “factored in”? It seems unlikely the economy is going to come roaring back in November, but if it can avoid tanking…

Well, I want to say something about Israel and Hezbollah, but I will pause here …

Friday, August 04, 2006

still not posting enough

'kay, I still need to blog, but I find it harder to stay away from kibitzing on everyone else's turf.

Ruth Ann Dailey talked on Monday ( about the limitations of public discourse. She spun it from a positive angle, she gets Bush where the liberals don’t because … um, well, she likes him, and finds positive motivations for his actions. She dwelled a bit on asinine criticisms of Bush, like doctor’s charting his decline (?) in the last 12 years. She was reminding us that many liberals will sink to any depth to attack Bush. And she’s right.

Welcome to the world of cognitive dissonance, ascribing evil motives to any behavior of your enemy, no matter how hard you have to bend reality. The thing is, none of us is immune, even Ms. Dailey.

In the same piece she let us know that she can’t let Bill Clinton go either. She compares Clinton and Bush at the 2000 inaugural,

“For me, a more resonant moment occurred at George W. Bush's first inauguration. On one side of the platform he stood with his parents, both men almost managing to hide how overwhelmed they felt and looking down when they could not. On the other side of the platform stood Bill Clinton, rhythmically working his jaw muscle to communicate pomp and circumstance, his chin jutting, his eyes glittering with self-awareness.

A man struggling to conceal his emotions because they should be private? That I understand. It's the gentleman's code I grew up with. An adult manufacturing emotion for public consumption and wallowing in it like a teenager? That I deplore, in both men and women, Republicans and Democrats; it's a sure sign that sooner or later, I'm gonna get hornswoggled.”

She finds charm in the Bush’s apparently shy behavior and duplicity in Clinton’s “Self-awareness” and apparent emotion. Maybe Clinton was thinking about leaving, maybe after eight years he was used to the public gaze and able to emote in public. Why does she think Clinton was manufacturing emotion? Why does she care? He was on his way out, how could he hornswoggle anyone else, and to what effect? Criticism is always unfair when directed at your guy, but the enemy is apparently always fair game.

Bush 1 and Clinton famously had grown closer as they worked on Tsunami relief. Bush 1 was touched that Clinton gave him the bed on Air Force One, a younger guy deferring to an older one. Bush 1 also noted that Clinton might have wanted to play poker with the reporters on the plane, but Bush 1 chose to embrace the positive idea. Ruth Ann surely could learn from Bush 1.

She attacks middle class baby boomers (a code phrase for liberals) as hypocrites, by damning them with faint praise:

“We like to see some quality we can relate to in the men and women we elect. For a generation of middle-class baby-boomers who made it to the Ivy League and the top of their fields, Mr. Clinton is the manifestation of their own merit, and Mr. Bush is the embodiment of the undeserved advantages of birthright.”

My understanding of Clinton’s early life is of a decidedly poor background, not particularly middle class. Getting to Georgetown, getting a Rhodes Scholarship and a Yale Law degree from where Clinton started are way past most boomers "own merit", even Ivy-Leagers. I can't (even) comprehend how hard Clinton had to work, how much to overcome, even with evdient intellectual ability. Part of Clinton’s later success was surely that he had a past in so many groups, he could talk to policy wonks, the rich and still be credible that he had felt the pain of being poor in his childhood. Of course, eyes wide open, a lot of people even now would not leave their daughters alone with Clinton, and you have to think of the incredible ego that fed his affair(s).

I don’t want to take anything away from Bush 2 in this. I didn’t apply to Yale, probably wouldn’t have gotten in. Bush 2 was a legacy, maybe that helped him get in. His grades were unremarkable, but he passed and got out. His GPA was pretty damn similar to John Kerry’s, and frankly my GPA at Oberlin was similar to both theirs. Bush 2’s relationship to Kerry reminds me of what JFK said about Adlai Stevenson (I read it in Beschloss). If anything, Ruth Ann is shorting Bush, focusing on his fluent “religious language”. Both Clinton and Bush 2 have attained the ultimate, and separately have shown depth of character and discipline (Bush ran a 3:45 marathon, Clinton was something like five hours, and we are pretty sure Bush has never had an affair). It is fair enough not to forgive someone for breaking your trust, as some feel about Clinton, but Ruth Ann never did trust or like Clinton.

And Ruth Ann, you lose credibility in your calls for understanding:

“The pitfall behind "getting" someone is identifying so closely that you can't see the flaws or problems that need to be addressed. And conversely, the problem with proudly not getting someone, with defining yourself reflexively as "not that guy" -- a peculiarly adolescent posture -- is that you will condemn and reject without attempting objective thought.

The failure to examine not-always-praiseworthy motivations that lie behind our connection with them, does more to keep our public discourse intemperate and childish than Mr. Bush's barnyard sound-bite ever could.”

How can we respect this notion when you took totally unnecessary shots at Clinton? We all make mistakes, repubs and dems, and we all will, and some times we and other people look at harmless behaviour and still ascribe evil intentions. You have to ask yourself why you think someone is trying to hornswagle you.

A different tack: There was a brief mention on another blog about Santorum's use of immigration as a wedge issue. I gotta say it has the only traction for him, though it means parting company with his beloved resident, er president (too much Ted Rall in my youth). Illegal’s in Pennsylvania, specifically Mexicans (because we don’t want the Chinese restaurants to close), hmm. You are always afraid of the thing you can’t see.

I noticed the NYT article about the ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) division in Ohio and, um, Kentucky or Indiana (?) cracking down on companies that hired illegal’s. They gave the administration credit though this might just be a rogue regional director. I hate to say it, but it seems to me that the war on terror part calls for a different strategy. ICE should be profiling, talking to individuals from the Middle East, giving terrorists fewer places to hide in the US. Of course, I have always wondered why we worry about corporate security (as opposed to national security) and then put poorly paid contract cleaners that might well be illegal in our offices overnight. If I ever pursue a career in industrial spying, I will start a cleaning crew business and underbid my rivals for the Sun or Microsoft contracts.