Friday, December 13, 2002

Christmas Vacation

Instead of trying pathetically to keep up the pretense of blogging while doing too much other stuff, I've decided just to take a couple weeks completely off. I should be back shortly after New Year's.

Meanwhile, contemplate the delicious prospect of Trent Lott being forced out of the Senate leadership for saying what he really felt.

Saturday, December 07, 2002

Money and the Net

AOL has just announced that it's going to put Time/Warner content on the net, and make it available exclusively to AOL users. Since there's been little progress in making money off of content (just ask the people with stock in Salon, to name one of the still solvent content providers who'll never turn a profit), they've decided to leverage their content to get more people using AOL for internet access and to make money that way. This doesn't bother me, since there's so much other content on the net available for free and there are only two companies that could make this play with any chance of success (AOL and MS). I'm guessing that it'll help AOL a little but not a whole lot.

As another way to make money off of content, I've noticed the NY Times and a bunch of magazines that previously made their archives available for free now charge to download articles. Again, this doesn't bother me. It's their content, they can do what they want. Though I doubt that they'll make much money. Slate became a subscriber only site for a while, then switched back when no one subscribed. I see the magazines going through the same thing when they realize that people like me who read old articles on a lark aren't willing to pay for them.

What this all amounts to is a desperate attempt to make money off of content other than porn, and I'm hoping it doesn't succeed. Let me explain.

Right now, the companies who sell internet access couldn't care less what I or you look at. They get their money whether you read big influential newspapers, little influential magazines, or bored liberals with nothing better to do. We're all the same to them. If someone comes up with a universal way to make money off of readership, this will all change. Suddenly, there will be big money for the presumably best sites with the highest readerships and even bigger money for those who figure out how to drive readers to sites regardless of how good they are. This would completely change the rules of the game.

For several years now, people have been predicting a future internet model based on micro-payments. Essentially, every time you went to a site you would pay it some tiny amount of money. Big sites would have a lot to gain. Little sites would still get something for their effort. Even though this would make me a few bucks, I think it would lead to real trouble. Once people got paid for clicks, there would be massive attempts to game the system for maximum profit. Popups, of course, would become even more ubiquitous, but that wouldn't be the real problem.

The shit would really hit the fan when companies like AOL and Microsoft figured out that the easiest way to drive traffic to their sites was to restrict access to everyone else's (and don't think micro-payments or something similar wouldn't lead to exactly this). It wouldn't always have to be a total block of sites, although that would be a possibility. First, the internet providers who also make content would rework their servers so that their customers accessed their content way faster than they could access anything else. Then they would start bribing Google and the other search engines to give them preference, the easiest way would be simply to list every hit for a paying customer ahead of every one for a non-payer (which would mean goodbye to being the #1 hit for my name on google), then you could eventually drop the non-payers completely on the grounds that no one clicks on them anyway.

If this weren't enough, the ISPs would then start cross-licensing each other (AOL and MSN giving each other preferential access, etc). Soon enough, what websites you could access (and how easily) would depend on who your ISP was, with the thousand or so paying sites being accessible to all and the rest of us not. Most people wouldn't mind so much, since all the stuff they were looking for (sports scores, stock quotes, naked pictures of Britney Spears) would still be accessible. You'd still be able to play games online. You just wouldn't see any non-approved or non-paying sites.

The people who did mind wouldn't always have a choice (there are still big chunks of this country with only one or two ISPs). They also wouldn't have a voice, since the big media would be the real winners in all this.

Of course, you'd be able to set up a blog or webpage through MSN or AOL, but I'm sure it wouldn't be free. You'd also have to watch what you say, they do have community standards to uphold. You may think that my blog wouldn't be worth blocking. It wouldn't be, but all of them combined would be (that's millions of hits a day). Those bloggers who played along would be allowed to operate (for a price). Those who wouldn't, wouldn't. If someone really popular didn't play ball, I'm sure that AOL could find someone willing to imitate his style for a nice salary.

Who would stop this? Would the big media conglomerates (who'd stand to make millions) raise a fuss? Would Congress step in, and interfere with the free market? [and it would still be as free as broadcasting is right now]. Would the Rehnquist Court rule against a few companies just trying to make a buck? Sure, new ISPs would open that promised free access, but they would be easy to buy out or marginalize (imagine if those 1,000 most popular sites stopped being accessible from certain ISPs or if the XBOX and PCs couldn't play online through those same ISPs).

I'm guessing that if we ever institute a system by which sites get paid for every reader without subscriptions, that'll be the end of the web as we know it. It'd just be a matter of time before the internet was a bunch of sheep looking at the pretty pictures brought to you by Chevrolet and Time/Warner.

Who's gonna prove me wrong?

To the Women of America

If a man in your life ever hits you or even seriously threatens to, walk out the fucking door and don't come back.
I don't care how much you love him.
I don't care how sweet he is when he apologizes.
I don't care how hard it is to find another man (they are out there).
I don't even care how hard life will be without him (it'll be far easier than putting up with abuse).
Walk out the door and don't come back.

You deserve far better than to have some asshole hit you when he gets pissed off at life. Staying with an abuser not only physically hurts you, but it hurts you psychologically. It makes you feel like like you had it coming. You didn't. Or that you provoked it. You didn't. There are no circumstances in which a man is ever justified in hitting a woman (other than defending himself or his kids against the woman's violence, but that's a situation in which the man should walk out the door and never come back).

You also need to think about the effect on your kids. Not only does domestic violence model bad behavior for them when they're grown, but it's hurting them now (even if the abuser isn't, and he will eventually). Think about how helpless and full of rage a child feels watching his mother be beaten. Think about how this rage will follow him around his whole life. Do you want that for your children? Walk out the door and never come back.

From a societal point of view, this would change the incentive structure for men (not that this should be the responsibility of women). Men would know that a single raised fist meant losing their family. Don't think this would change their behavior? There aren't a huge number of men each abusing one woman. There are a relatively small number of men who abuse practically every woman they get involved with. The sooner these men are left alone the better. We'll all be better off if they can't find anyone to stay with them. They may even change their behavior.

I know that a lot of people are going to jump in with It's more complicated than that or Don't you realize how hard it is to raise kids on your own?. I know, and I don't care. Sometimes there are no good choices, but putting up with abuse is never the best available option. Even moving to a shelter for a while is better than being abused or watching your mother be abused.

Others may balk at a strict zero-tolerance policy. After all, couldn't this be a one-time thing? No, it couldn't. The fact is that the vast majority of men have never hit a woman. Those that have do so more than once. If he hits you and you stick around, he will do it again. Guaranteed. Walk out the door and don't come back.

Note to the men who hit women:
Why? Does it make you feel like a tough guy? Does it give you some sense of power in an otherwise powerless life? Do you just like the idea of pushing around those weaker than you? Is your temper that uncontrollable? Get help. There are programs to help you change your behavior. If that fails, then leave. If you can't control your anger, then you need to walk out the door and never come back. Everyone in your life would be better off if you just got the fuck out. If you neither want to change nor to leave, drop me a line next time your temper gets the best of you. You're probably bigger than I am, but I'd give you a much better challenge than a woman or a child. Or are you afraid to fight a man?

Friday, December 06, 2002

Best of the Web

CalPundit has written a really good review of The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq by Kenneth Pollack. You should read it.

I, for one, hate Saddam and would love to see his head hanging from the national Christmas tree in Washington. However, I think so little of the competence and intentions of the Bush administration that I don't trust them to do things right. If they'd only stop lying to us all the time and make a real case against the bastard......

You should also read Limbs of No Body: World's Indifference to the Afgan Tragedy, which was written by an Iranian before the terrorist attacks that reminded all of us of what was going on in Afganistan.
In this hour, 14 more people will have died in Afghanistan of war and hunger and 60 others will have become refugees in other countries. This article is intended to describe the reasons for this mortality and emigration. If this bitter subject is irrelevant to your sweet life, please don't read it.

Don't worry. It really takes far less than an hour to read.

Meanwhile, Jim wants you to take a look at the man behind the curtain. Despite any impression left by our current dance with the UN, he believes that we are going to war with Iraq, no matter what (here and here).
American citizens might be forgiven for wondering what kind of suckers their government takes them for.

The aggressive movement of Israeli, Turkish, and American special forces into Iraq is another sign that the U.S. and its allies are not seriously engaged in any kind of peace process. In fact, what is going on is pre-war -- not an adjective, a noun.

Pre-war is what negotiation and diplomacy really mean in our modern newspeak. Pre-war is a constant vigilance against peace. It is the Tonkin Gulf and the USS Maine and, when even these kinds of charades are no longer necessary, it is a first-strike foreign policy.
Given the Bush administration's unwillingness to change policies even when circumstances change (see Tax Cuts, Deficits; also Fuel Economy, Saudi Utility Vehicles), I think he may be right.

Jeanne D'Arc give us a rundown of the mess that is Nigeria (the people who brought you Biafra and death by stoning for premarital sex). She's posted some feedback giving more detailed info on Nigeria here. Given its oil, its population, and its position as the strongest military power in a very fucked up part of the world (not to mention its tribal and religious strife), Nigeria is one to watch. A meltdown there (a very real possibility) could not only kill millions of people through war and starvation, but a ripple effect could destroy reform efforts in other African countries, plunge the whole region into even more chaos, and reach out to bite us here in America (plus, obviously, make most of Africa off-limits to Americans and Israelis for the forseeable future).

Lastly, take a look at UggaBugga's flowchart detailing possible outcomes in Iraq. And, yes, pigs fly is listed as a possibility (just under US transforms region into Western style capitalist democracies).

I believe in human dignity as the source of national purpose, in human liberty as the source of national action, in the human heart as the source of national compassion, and in the human mind as the source of our invention and our ideas ... . For liberalism is not so much a party creed or set of fixed platform promises as it is an attitude of mind and heart, a faith in man's ability through the experiences of his reason and judgment to increase for himself and his fellow men the amount of justice and freedom and brotherhood which all human life deserves. ... For the liberal society is a free society, and it is at the same time and for that reason a strong society.
- John F. Kennedy

Thursday, December 05, 2002

Mea Culpa

I know I said that I'd ignore other bloggers and day to day politics until I finished spilling my guts on the issues, but man is fallible and weak. I have several wordy, poorly, written, and annoyingly imprecise posts in the hopper on subjects ranging from education to foreign aid. Unfortunately, they'll take some serious work to even meet my exceedingly low standards for publication, and I'm not in the editing mood. Once I get them into a form comprehensible to anyone other than the voices in my head, I'll post them. I promise.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blogging.

More Politics

CalPundit weighed in on the Kevin Phillips essay and had this to say:
I think this business of "rebuilding" the old FDR coalition is tiresome. FDR — with the Depression as background — was able to build a coalition based on labor, the poor, and minorities. The problem is that labor and the poor are shrinking constituencies, so focusing there just won't do the job.
I think he's right that a coalition of the poor, minorities, and labor is an electoral loser; I just don't see that as the true New Deal coalition.

As a percentage of the American population, the truly poor (as opposed to those who are simply on the low end of the scale, but are doing okay) has shrunk pretty much every decade since the depression, with the possible exception of the 80's. Their share of the electorate has shrunk even faster, because the poor have always voted in low numbers but now vote even less. Any electoral strategy that appeals primarily to the poor is a sure loser (and this is where I think much liberal rhetoric goes wrong).

Labor's percentage of the vote is also shrinking, and many union members are now well-off enough that they can vote based primarily on social rather than economic issues. Most union voters still vote Democratic, but this is far from monolithic. Minority voters (black, hispanic, asian, and gay) are more reliably Democratic; but discrimination has lessened and enough of them are doing well enough financially that many of them now vote based on their self-identification with the investor class rather than from concern over civil rights. [Note: I don't consider this and a lessening of poverty to be bad things just because they hurt Democrats at the polls. Far from it. I consider these as things that the nation and the Democratic Party can be proud of. They do, however, have electoral consequences, and they cannot be ignored]. Expecting union members and minorities to vote Democratic based solely on their identity as union members and minorities is also a sure loser.

I believe that FDR's appeal was not to minorities, the poor, and to union members just because they belonged to those groups (even in the 30's that wasn't enough to win elections). I believe that his appeal to them was part of his greater appeal to huge chunks of the American electorate. That appeal was more psychological than based on race or other identity. FDR spoke to and for what America as a whole was feeling during the 30's and 40's, and that is still applicable today.

I'd say that FDR had two basic constituencies, with a great deal of overlap: the anxious and the powerless. Speak to those constituencies today and you win elections (a great deal of Reagan's popularity was his appeal to those who felt anxious about the future and those who felt powerless in the face of government).

Whatever the drawbacks (and they're too many to list) of the era, there was a lot less anxiety in the 50's and early 60's than there is now. If you had a job assembling cars, you could be pretty sure that the job would stick around and that you'd be able to support your family with it. If you had a job in middle management at GM or at a bank, you could be pretty sure that job would be there your whole life. If your kids were in college, then you could be pretty sure that good jobs would be waiting for them when they graduated. Things were more predictable, and that made people less anxious.

Compare that to the 30's and 40's, in which the Great Depression and war made everyone anxious. You couldn't be sure that your job would be there in a year. You couldn't be sure your son would be alive in a year. You couldn't even be sure that your way of life would be around much longer. FDr dealt with this anxiety by letting people know that we were all in this together, and by using the government to actively make things better. He knew that when things are bad, people don't want the government to simply step out of the way and let nature take its course (the Hoover approach); they want the government to step in and make things better.

This activist approach to government is very popular and should be just as big selling point for the Democrats now as it was then. While social dislocation and unemployment is nothing close to what it was in the 30's and the War on Some Terror Funded by Some People (none of whom happen to be Saudi) pales in comparison to WWII, the public today is still quite anxious. A factory employee, a middle manager, even a professional doesn't know for sure that his job will be there in a year. If it's not, he doesn't know for sure he'll be able to replace it. He doesn't know if his kids will find good jobs when they graduate college; nor does he know what the world will be like in even a few years. This leads to a lot of anxiety, and elections will go to those who act to calm it and are willing to take steps to make things better. If both parties pretend the anxiety doesn't exist, then elections will go to the party willing to promise the biggest bribes to the most people(and that's usually the party that wants to cut taxes the most).

The second thing in people's minds that FDR spoke to was a sense of powerlessness in the face of the forces controlling events, sometimes these were the market forces which caused the Great Depression, sometimes they were world events spinning out of control. This, too, is still a powerful emotion today, though there are obviously different things driving it. Even those with lots of money often feel powerless in the face of events. Even those who have secure jobs themselves know for a fact that they have little true influence on the way things will go down the line (the people with true power in this country could fit into Madison Square Garden).

People feel powerless in the face of their jobs moving overseas. They feel powerless in the face of HMO's denying them medical care. They feel powerless in the face of their 401k's being eaten away by corporate malfeasance. They feel powerless in the face of international terrorism. Whoever reliably sticks up for those that have little power on their own will win elections. Given their unwillingness to face down corporate donors over economic issues and their unwillingness to do more than slavishly follow George Bush on foreign affairs, the Democrats shouldn't be surprised to see Bush fairly popular. At least he seems willing to stick up for them against terrorists (even though he's dishonest as hell about where the true threat lies).

Speaking for those who feel anxious and those who feel powerless was the true source of FDR's coalition, much more than simply listing its members ethnicities and incomes. That is the sort of coaltion the Democrats should be rebuilding. Give them policies which try to address (rather than just stoke) their anxieties and which give them a collective voice in events they're powerless to affect alone, and you'll win the support of most Americans. Stoking fears without offering solutions and hoping people vote based solely on ethnic identity is sure not to.

Wednesday, December 04, 2002

Skybox Politics

Kevin Phillips used to be in the mainstream of the Republican Party, but for the last decade or so the Party has moved away from him to the point where he appears further from the Republicans than many mainstream Democrats are. he's written a good thinkpiece for the LA Times, and it's obvious from his tone who he now identifies with.
Greed Is Putting Party in Peril (username=laexaminer; password=laexaminer):
The weakening economy and skewed wealth distribution were obvious rallying points, yet Democratic leaders, despite having the freedom that comes from being out of power nationally, abandoned them, save for cliches about protecting Social Security and providing prescription drugs.

While hardly new, this marked an escalation in the national party's willingness to discard old beliefs and the interests of ordinary citizens in order to woo big-contributor money that has captured the center of U.S. politics -- the new "venal center."..............

.............This is a losing politics, because the dominance of venality automatically favors the Republicans. Innately on the side of money, many, if not most, Republicans are philosophically committed to upholding its principles and some of its excesses. By contrast, the worthy history of the Democratic Party, especially during its periods of dominance, has been to question those principles and to indict related excesses. When abuses mount and Democrats remain mute, they lose both constituency appeal and their historical raison d'etre.

Regaining this balance is not turning left, an implausible description for the great Democrats from Jefferson to Truman. What it has involved is correcting the excesses of plutophile conservatives from Alexander Hamilton through the 20th century and down to the present day. Under current circumstances, it would take years for any such correction to be leftish............

.............What the Democrats have to pursue, then, is neither rightward nor leftward movement but a double-barreled recommitment to Middle America and the party's old Jackson-FDR constituencies. That will require them to forswear both rightist economics and left-chic culture. If any such effort succeeds, what opponents try to label it won't matter. Indeed, we can reasonably speculate that any such new politics able to overcome the venal center would also go a long way toward recreating another vital center.

Armed Liberal has already commented on this, but I can't say that I agre with him when he says:
Until the Democratic Party can wean itself from the golden teat of large donors (primarily from lawyers, labor, technology, and media), they will be transparently captive to their investors' interests.
or with Phillips when he insists that money from Hollywood is the worst of all.

I would first point out that the traditional Democratic donor groups don't scare me, nor do they scare most people likely to vote Democratic. The unions, trial lawyers, environmental groups, abortion rights groups, and socially liberl Hollywood types are the most solidly Democraic donor constituencies. Try as they might, the Republicans have never gotten significant numbers of people to vote against the Democrats because of who gives money to them (people may vote pro-life, but they're not changing their votes if the Democrats stop taking money from NARAL). These traditional Democratic donor groups line up pretty closely with good Democratic policies.

The problems occur when Democrats start relying on money from traditionally Republican groups. When Democrats start depending on money from banks, from insurance companies, from the investor class, and from big business in general, then they find themselves in an untenable position. To keep these donors happy, they must abandon traditional Democratic policies and the political advantages that come from representing the majority of the American people against those with outsized power and influence.

As soon as Democrats start selling access to anyone willing to write a check, they're lost. It's not that Democratic ties to their traditional supporters scare off voters; it's that Democratic reliance on their traditional opponents paralyzes them. This reliance makes it impossible for them to put forth the sort of policies that will truly differentiate them from the Republicans. This is where Kevin Phillips has things wrong. Gray Davis didn't fail to excite California voters because he was too beholden to Democratic interest groups. Davis failed to excite them because he was too beholden to Republican ones. His Skybox Politics were so dependent on big corporate money that he was unwilling to do anything to piss that big corporate money off. In effect, Davis came off as a Republican Lite, and this it what failed to excite voters.

I'd say that it's good news for Democrats indeed that such an unappealing politician as Gray Davis won almost solely because of residual loyalty to the Democratic Party (it's not like most of his big donors didn't secretly want Simon to win). It says something about the Republican Party that they've moved so far to the right that they can't beat an empty suit like Davis.

I'd also say that it's good news for the Democrats that some big money that had straddled the fence in the Clinton years has now gone over entirely to the Republican side. That's right. It's good news, but only if the Democrats learn the proper lessons (and some Democrats, like Joe Lieberman, seem unwilling to learn those lessons).

Since the oil companies now give almost all their money to Republicans, the Democrats now no longer have to give a shit what the oil companies think about anything. They can formulate and push policies that favor conservation and that favor consumers even in the face of stiff opposition from the oil companies. Why? Because the oil companies won't support them anyway, so there's no downside. In fact, they can go out of their way to antagonize the oil companies with almost no repercussions.

Since the drug companies now give almost all their money to Republicans, the Democrats now no longer have to give a shit what the drug companies think about anything. They can formulate and push policies that favor consumers even in the face of stiff opposition from the drug companies. Why? Because the drug companies won't support them anyway, so there's no downside. In fact, they can go out of their way to antagonize the drug companies with almost no repercussions.

You get the point. The Democrats can make a list of every industry that favors Republicans over Democrats, then go down that list getting rid of every policy they ever instituted to favor those bastards. They once opposed price controls fro prescription drugs; they should now favor them. Not only is it good politics in that millions of voters would benefit from Democratic policies, but sticking it to your enemies is also good politics. It gives the big donors a reason to fear you, and may convince some of them to stay the hell out of politics completely. The same is true for sticking to the oil companies, the insurance companies, the big polluters, etc.

Most of the big Republican contributors do scare voters, and it's much better politics to protect the public from those out to fuck 'em than it is to compete for donations by helping to bend the public over. Does this mean the Democrats will lose some more financial support in the short run? Yes. Does this mean that some Democratic politicians will lose elections in the short run? Yes. Both of these are likely true, but they're worth the cost. Actually articulating a message that puts voters over donors, that truly serves the people and not the powerful would make the Democrats the majority party for the forseeable future.

As people like Kevin Phillips and Michael Lind prove, there are a lot of voters disaffected with the direction the Republicans have pushed politics in the last two decades. Those voters, most of them Rockefeller Republicans, are looking around for a choice. The Democrats, by competing for big money donations from those same interest groups that have driven away lifelong Republicans like Phillips, haven't given those partyless voters any reason to support them. The people want politicians who'll stick up for them even when the big money goes the other way. Those policians are unlikely to ever be Republicans, but right now they're not Democrats either. It's not that the people have been given a choice and chose the Republicans, it's that they've been given little choice (at least economically) and are evenly divided. Democrats win elections on economics, but they have to give voters a true choice. Skybox Politics doesn't give the voters that choice.

Monday, December 02, 2002

Gays in the Military

I remeber looking at all the fuss made over Letting gays in the military back in '93, and thinking Are these idiots under the impression that there aren't any gays in the military? If so, were any of these idiots in the military themselves? I can tell you, for a fact, that there are gays in the military right now, just as there were gays when I was in the Navy, just as there were gays when my father was in the Navy, and just as there were gays when both my grandfathers were in the Army. It's just a matter of whether they have to lie about it.

I knew several guys who were almost certainly gay when I was in the Navy. One of them had the bunk underneath mine for over year. I went drinking with others on several occassions. I never knew for sure, because they didn't tell me and I wasn't about to ask. They were simply my friends and shipmates. What they did in their own time was none of my business.

There are laws on the books to handle sexual harassment, and they should be applied to everyone fairly. If no sexual harassment or other violations are actually occurring (ie, if everyone involved is a consenting adult) and if no one violates their chain of command, then I don't see why it's anyone's business what anyone else does with their private parts when off duty.

Women in the Military

I was in the Navy back before women served on combat ships, so I had little interaction with females while in the military. I can tell you that I found them to be as professional and as competent as men when I did come into contact with them. I also happen to be a big supporter of women in the workplace in civilian life, as I've said before. I feel that a huge part of our competetive advantage over backward-ass places like Saudi Arabia comes from the fact that we allow women to contribute to our society both economically and politically in a way that other societies don't. Until big chunks of the globe figure that out, they'll continue to be backward-assed.

So you'd probably expect me to support women in the United States military, and you'd be half right. As I'd said before, we have a huge number of non-combat jobs in the military, most of which I think could be done as competently and much more cheaply by civilians. These jobs, and some that I think should stay in military hands, can be done as well by women as by men. For the several hundred thousand jobs for which there are essentially no physical demands, women should be (and are, as far as I know) be treated equally. The non-combat jobs in the military that I think should become civilian jobs could be done as well by women (civilian or military) as by men.

However, the purpose of the military is not to do paperwork. The purpose of the military is combat, and for that most men are better suited than most women. I'm not making any assumptions about emotional makeup, nor about how anyone would react to combat. I assume that there are plenty of women who would react coolly under fire, just as there are many men who would wet their pants and panic. No, I'm talking solely about physical suitability.

The military has a little-discussed institution known as Gender Norming, which essentially means that women are compared solely to other women when being physically tested. In everything from height, to aerobic capaicty to pushups, women are held to lower standards than men. What's the problem with that?, you may ask Why should women be compared to men? Can't a woman be in good shape even if she's not as strong as a man in worse shape?. I'd agree, if physical standards were simply arbitrary benchmarks which served no real world purpose, but they're not and they do.

As it stands now, a 4' 10", 110 lb woman is welcome in the Army, but a 4' 11" 130 lb man is not. Why is that? Is there some sort of benefit to the military in doing this? Are 110 lb women somehow more physically able to do their jobs than 130 lb men?

This is neither a sports contest nor a test to see how well we're taking care of ourselves, this is real life. Here in real life, the military needs people who can accomplish certain physical tasks, and those tasks don't care if you're a man or a woman. Loading a 5" gun or shouldering a pack won't be easier for women than for men. Ammo will not become lighter, nor distances shorter. Holding women to lower physical standards than men puts lives in jeopardy, and I'm against it.

My ship (DD-980, Da Moose) was a Spruance class destroyer with approximately 300 men on board. all of us were trained for multiple jobs, including firefighting. My main job was operating radar and keeping charts, which required nothing more than the ability to stay awake and to pay attention. I was also in charge of destroying cryptographic material for a few hellish months. If these were my only jobs, then a woman much smaller than me could've done it more efficiently (since she would've taken up less space and eaten less food), but this was not my only job.

At other times I would be:
1) Dragging a fully charged fire hose across a metal deck, through hatches and passageways
2) Carrying a wounded comrade in a stretcher
3) Standing guard on the quarterdeck with a .45
4) Repelling boarders with a 12 gauge shotgun
5) Climbing the radar mast of my ship to do repairs (boy, did that would sway in the wind and scare the shit out of me)
6) Loading 40 lb shells in a gun turret
7) Pulling the Search & Rescue swimmers and anyone they rescued aboard by hand (I turned down the chance to go to SAR school and I still regret it)
8) Maintaining fire equipment
9) Scrubbing nuclear contamination off the outside of the ship

None of these jobs could be done as efficiently by a smaller woman or man, and some of them couldn't have been done at all. A stretcher bearer had to be able to lift someone through a hatch almost singelhandedly (and yes, we practiced this). Someone fighting a fire may have to be on the nozzle by himself because everyone else was wounded. These were not jobs which could be passed off to someone else if inconvenient. The 300 men on board were all we had to rely on, and there's no way to know who would be available and who would be injured if we were in combat.

In my (not-so-humble) opinion, neither small women nor small men belong in the US Navy, nor do people belong who aren't strong enough to perform certain physical tasks. If women are strong enough to perform those tasks, then welcome aboard. If not, I think it's doing a disservice to everyone involved to lower standards for them. If strict physical standards happen to exclude more women from service than men (and they will), I couldn't give a shit. This isn't about being fair, it's about getting the job done.

The Marines have a philosophy that everyone is a grunt at heart, that every single marine could be sent into combat with a rifle whenever needed. Because of this, they should expect every marine to be able to carry a pack and hike for miles, regardless of gender or age. Being a combat rifleman is the very essence of being a marine, and I don't see why it should be compromised. Nor do I see why the Marines would want to recruit those who could never be sent into combat regardless of how badly they were needed there. I feel the same way about women in the Army. If they meet the same physical standards as men, then they're welcome. If not, then not.

Women in the Air Force may be a different matter, since they're the only branch that may very well not be anywhere close to combat. So the Air Force may not need to be as strict for non-pilots, but they should still hold everyone to the same standards (If not, then why have standards at all? Are they just competely arbitrary and unimportant?). Those standards could, however, be more lax and so leave room for more women.

I do have one note about women in combat, they need to be very aware of the risk of sexual assault. This is neither to scare away women nor to give an excuse to keep them away. If taken prisoner, there is a probability that any female captive will be sexually assaulted. Of the two American women captured during the Gulf War, one was raped repeatedly. The Israelis, in fact, no longer put women in front line positions because they were routinely raped if taken captive. They didn't consider it worth the risk. My own personal opinion is that a woman should be able to make up her own mind about running that risk, but that we have a duty to let her know that she is running a risk.

So there it is. The relatively few women who can meet the necessary physical standards should be welcomed into the military, those who cannot should not be allowed in (nor should men who can't meet tough standards). Nor, for that matter, should physical requirements be relaxed for older men and women.

For similar reasons to that stated above, I'd hold women and men to the same standards for becoming cops and firefighters. In fact, I can't figure out why any job with physical requirements at all would have different ones for men and women. If they can be lowered like that for women, why not lower them for men as well? If they really don't matter, then why not do away with them altogether? I'm sure there are some jobs out there that have physical standards for no good reason at all, but the military ain't one of them.

Wednesday, November 27, 2002


I woke up this morning in my own heated apartment on a comfortable bed. I'm sitting at my own computer, while watching a movie on my own television. I have access to clean running water, to good food, and to top-flight medical care. I can walk a short distance through my very safe neighborhood to a public park, where children play and people take their dogs to romp. I have access to the latest current events and to thousands of years of human knowledge both by logging onto the internet and at my public library. I can vacation (and have) all over the world with the ease with which people used to travel to the nearest market. All this I have access to with an income that's below the national average. My son, who is far nicer and far better adjusted than I was at his age, has the day off from his fine public school, at which he has teachers who genuinely care about him. I see my mother and stepfather every week, and my nieces almost as often. I have a good woman in my life. In short, I'm the luckiest sumbitch who ever set foot on earth, or at least that's the way I feel. Sure, I have some minor annoyances in life, but who doesn't? I've had disappointments, but who hasn't? I never played third base for the Cubs (my one great regret), but I have a far happier, far more comfortable, and far luckier life than I possibly deserve. Thank you, America.

(No more posting until Monday; stop surfing the internet and go spend time with your families)

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

CBS News/New York Times Poll. Nov. 20-24, 2002. N=996 adults nationwide. MoE ± 3 (total sample).

"If George W. Bush is renominated as the Republican Party's nominee for president in 2004, do you think you will probably vote for George W. Bush, or vote for the Democratic candidate, or don't you know yet?"

....................Bush..... Democrat.... Don't Know Yet.... Don't Know
ALL............... 32............ 18................... 47..................... 3
Republicans... 73............. 0................... 26 ......................1
Democrats.......9............. 45.................. 45...................... 1
Independents.. 21........... 10................... 65...................... 4
"Do you think the Democrats should give Al Gore another chance to run and nominate him for president in 2004, or do you think the Democrats should nominate someone new in 2004?"

........................Gore......... Someone New...... Depends.....(vol.) Don't Know
ALL ...................27................... 62.................... 3...................... 8
Republicans....... 19................... 71.................... 1...................... 9
Democrats......... 33................... 55.................... 4...................... 8
Independents..... 26................... 60.................... 4..................... 10

Doesn't look like good news for George Bush or Al Gore.
Only 32% of voters would definitely vote to reelect Bush, and a quarter of Republicans are open to voting Democratic. A safe incumbent would have far better numbers that this when he doesn't even have an opponent yet.
Meanwhile, an absolute majority of every group wants the Democrats to nominate someone other than Gore (not that we can't discount the Republicans who won't vote for a Democrat no matter what).

Looks like there's a lot of running room for the right candidate.

Defense Spending

I'm treating this as a different topic than Defense Policy, which is about what we do with the military. This is about what we spend on the military and where it goes.

When I was in the Navy, we bought a 12 foot fiberglass ladder for $1800. The reason it was so expensive, despite being a rather ordinary ladder, was that the Navy had come up with rather detailed specifications for it. Since the Navy didn't buy many of these ladders in a year, no large companies bothered to make ladders to fit military specs. Since there was no competition, the guy in Alabama who assembled the ladders in his back yard (yes, we got them from a guy working out of his back yard) could charge what he wanted to for them.

The reason we had rather detailed specs for the ladders was because there are a ton of officers in the Pentagon who write specs for a living. There are many reasons we have a ton of officers in the Pentagon writing specs for a living, but chief among them is that the ratio of officers to enlisted men is four times greater than it was in WWII and those officers have to do something. That something is often writing specs for things that don't necessarily need very detailed specs. Being good officers, the people we put in charge of the specs do a very thorough job and often end up requiring an item which isn't built or sold anywhere in the world. When this happens, the military ends up buying $1800 ladders, $400 shatterproof ashtrays, and $2000 toilet seats because making a few of something to exact specs is dreadfully expensive.

We've also had an entire culture grow up in the Pentagon around the Powerpoint presentation. Not only are there officers who make Powerpoint presentations all day every day, but not knowing how to use Powerpoint could serious harm a young officer's career (I wish I was making this up). Unfortunately, in such a giant peacetime organization, office skills sometimes get emphasized at the expense of combat skills.

Having a military officer do one of these jobs is far more expensive than having a civilian do the same job (because of training, retirement benefits, and ongoing expenses like healthcare). Unfortunately, we've gone the wrong direction in the last decade or so, eliminating hundreds of thousands of civilian military emplyees and getting either active duty military or outside consultants to do their jobs (if there's one group that's guaranteed to be expensive, it's consultants). There is absolutely no reason why we need military personnel doing administrative jobs in the Pentagon or anywhere else in the US (overseas is different). Civilians can get security clearnaces, and are a lot easier to train and keep. There's no reason a typist needs to know how to use a rifle unless he's going to be typing in a combat zone.

Every year, we buy at least a few planes that the military doesn't want or need. Often, we buy ships the Navy doesn't want or need. Every single year, Congress spends money the Pentagon doesn't ask for on items the Pentagon doesn't want or need because defense contractors are huge contributors to political campaigns. Huge. And money talks.

Of the things the military does ask for, its priorities are often seriously fucked. The top brass in the Pentagon should, in theory, decide what things are most important and prioritize budget requests accordingly. Spare parts and training, being relatively low dollar items with relatively high payoffs in readiness, should come ahead of big ticket items that may never actually see combat. They never do. You see, the big brass in the Pentagon is only human. And, as humans, they want to live comfortable lives both in the service and once they retire. There are only a few companies that routinely hire retired generals and admirals to million dollar salaries, and they're all defense contractors. Those contractors put a lot higher priority on big ticket items that have high profit margins than they do on low ticket spare parts and training that doesn't. They also don't offer million dollar jobs to officers who didn't share their priorities while in uniform. There's a tremendous amount of pressure on the top brass to confrom to the wishes of the defense contractors, not only from the firms themselves but also from all the other top brass who'll be working for them soon. And money talks.

When we do research on new military hardware, we tend to focus (for the same reasons) on big ticket shiny new toys rather than smaller budget items that might have more of a real world impact. The Bush administration is going to start researching a buying tactical nukes that we are almost guranteed to never use in combat. Meanwhile, we still don't have decent body armor for field troops, we don't have a lightweight artillery piece that can be transported by helicopter, and we're using the same basic firearm (the M-16) that came into service around the time I was born. But we've spent billions on a massive Crusader mobile artillery piece that can't be deployed to most likely combat zones because it's too big to go over 3rd world bridges and won't fit into most of our trasnport aircraft.

In pursuit of that big ticket to the corporate boardroom there is also a tendency to, shall we say, "fudge" test results. The most famous recent example was the "test" of a sea based missile defense platform in which the target had a GPS on board to make it easier for our missiles to lock onto it. This is not the first missile defense test to be rigged. I was never involved in testing Star Wars, but I do remember a test of one of our weapon systems (I won't say which one, in order to avoid compromising any classified information) in which the airborne target drone had to be towed over the ship three times at progressively slower speeds until we finally hit the fucker. I'm real glad that it was a drone and not a Soviet aircraft we were firing at. I'm not sure that Ivan would've been so cooperative.

Almost as famous is the Stealth series of planes, which don't appear to be particularly stealthy (if our experience in the Balkans is to be believed) and which the brass keeps trotting out in places like Panama where they have no chance of being shot down. Billions mored down the drain and we're not a bit safer. Even more troublesome are the Osprey (a helicopter substitute which has killed dozens of Marines) and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which several officers ended up sacrificing their careers to change (it's first incarnation was a death-trap). I wish we didn't have a set-up in which people have to sacrifice their careers in order to actually do their jobs, but we do. That good men make that sacrifice in order to save lives is both a testament to their courage and devotion to duty and a black mark on our entire command structure.

My suggestions for saving money and improving output:
1) Phase out over half (if not more) of the officer billets in the military.
2) Replace as many deskbound military personnel as possible with civilians (Basically, a military man's job is combat. If it doesn't involve combat, going into a combat zone, traing someone for combat, or planning a combat mission; then it probably doesn't need to be done by someone in uniform).
3) Stop purchasing unneeded items.
4) Make spare parts and training top priorities, money goes to them before any new weapon procurement
5) Have a tough civilian Inspector General's office which lies completely outside the chain of command, with total authority to conduct audits and tests at a moment's notice.
6) Have civilians who are not part of the procurement process conduct and/or audit all test of new hardware
7) Focus R&D on low budget items with high payoffs, and step back from big budget low payoff items (like Star Wars and tactical nukes)
8) Real consequences for waste, fraud, and abuse. At a minimum, those found fudging numbers or faking test results should be forced out of the service without benefits. If their behavior endangered lives, they should be court-martialed and imprisoned.

To me, #1 and #8 are most important. We've got too many officers with too many ambitions and too much time on their hands. We've also got too few real consequences for those who do things they're not supposed to (as long as they're the things sanctioned by the top brass). Until these are fixed, we'll continue to have problems.

For too long, the debate over the military budget has been a zero sum game. Some people want to increase the budget, some want to decrease it, but few pay attention to changing what we spend money on. If we cut down the amount we spent on paperwork and big ticket items, while increasing the amount we spent on spare parts and smaller items, we could increase preparedness and battle readiness without spending a dollar more.

If you read one thing today, let it be Al Gore and the Alpha Girls by James Capozzola over at the The Rittenhouse Review.

Monday, November 25, 2002

I don't practice Santeria, I ain't got no crystal ball.....

I can't, for the life of me, figure out why my permalinks are now pointing at the first post of that week's archives instead of to the individual post (even though the address refers to the individual post).

Everybody else having this problem?

Any ideas?

Friday, November 22, 2002

Daily Kos has a good breakdown of Presidential aspirants for '04 right here, and there are some excellent observations in the comments.

The Burton Theory of Taxation

All taxes hurt. Even a billionaire is hurt (at least theoretically) by a $1 tax. So there's not way we can raise money for the government without hurting someone at least a little. Unfortunately, we still need to raise money for the government to operate. Therefore it comes down to the question of who do we hurt and how much.

In my (modestly named) theory, taxes should be based on causing the least pain possible while distorting incentives as little as possible (with one exception to be mentioned later).

I don't think issues of "fairness" should enter into the equation much at all, for the simple reason that we don't have an easy way to determine someone's "fair" share of taxes. One person may make money in way that depends greatly on the government (as, perhaps, an employee of a defense contractor); someone else may make money in a way that has little to do with the government (as a gardener, perhaps). Is it "fair" to charge them the same in taxes? Who knows? Should someone who is more likely to be mugged pay more for police protection? There are just too many variables to ever determine anyone's "fair" tax burden, so I'm not even going to try.

Nor am I going to try to base taxes on moral or economic "worth" (an argument with which many other people put great stock). An argument that They earned it isn't going to carry much weight with me, since the alternative is taxing someone who also presumably earned it (with one notable exception). All taxes have to come from someone who otherwise has legal right to the money involved, and I don't think that the government should be in the business of ranking relative merit to determine who gets to pay the next dollar in taxes needed. Again, it's just not something that lends itself to quantification. Was Dick Cheney so worthy at Halliburton that he merited the pay of 1 million minumum wage employees? What about Larry Flynt? Probably not (to either), but I don't think there's any way to decided that question fairly. I'm fine with letting the market decide compensation (with a floor below which it can't go), but that's not the same as letting the market decide taxation. Just because the market rewards Larry Flynt with millions more than it rewards a bricklayer, doesn't mean that he shouldn't pay more in taxes (nor does it, in itself, mean he should pay more).

By "least pain", I don't intend to guess the amount of personal psychic trauma caused by paying taxes. I mean this to measure the greatest disruption in buying power and in lifestyle. By this measure, taxing a billionaire $1 million would be far less painful than taxing 1000 people barely scraping by $1000/each. While the billionaire may not like paying $1 million in taxes, it won't affect his buying power as much as a $1000 tax would to someone barely scraping by (even a $500 million tax wouldn't have the same real day-to-day effect on a billionaire's life as a small tax would on someone in poverty).

If causing the least pain were the only measure worth consideration, we could simply slap a 100% marginal tax on high incomes until they were broght down to everyone else's level or until the government were fully funded. But that's not the only issue. We also need to take into account how taxes will affect the incentive to work, save, and invest. Obviously, a 100% marginal tax bracket gives no incentive to do anything but sit around all day. Just as obviously (to anyone not in the current administration), the difference between a 39% marginal tax rate and a 36% marginal tax rate probably isn't enough to change anyone's motivation. But there is an obvious difference between the motivation provided by a 90% marginal tax bracket and a 30% one. [Remember: For the purpose of motivation, what matters is the marginal tax bracket (that is, the tax on the next dollar earned) not the overall tax bracket. If all your income up to now is tax free, but any income above it is taxed at 100%, then there's no incentive to work overtime or get a raise even though your overall rate of taxation may still be very low.]

There is another way in which taxes can distort things other than simply placing a brake on motivation, they can cause people to change their behavior. If the government declared tomorrow that all people named William didn't have to pay taxes, there would be a mad rush as people changed their names and almost all new babies would be named William. This wouldn't have anything to do with the intrinsic goodness of the name, just a reaction to tax incentives. There are real life examples of this all around us. Property taxes in Charleston used to based on the amount on streetfront taken up by a house, so most old houses in Charleston are very narrow and go far back from the street. There's nothing that made this design more desirable in Charleston than here in Nashville, but the tax structure gave people an incentive to build those houses in Charleston and not in Nashville. Currently, Federal income taxes are lower on capital gains on investments and real estate than they are for earned income. In addition, earned income is assessed payroll taxes to pay for Social Security and Medicare and capital gains aren't. This serves to distort incentives, making capital gains more attractive than earned income.

If we put all this together, we come up with the outline of an ideal tax code. It should cause as little pain as possible, so it should take very little (if anything) from those on the low end of the economic spectrum who would suffer the most harm from any loss of income. It should also cause the least disincentive as possible, so at no place on the income scale should marginal rates be high enough completely discourage economic activity. Nor should an ideal tax code distort economic and noneconomic choices without good reason*. I would also add that an ideal tax code would be as simple as possible, because I consider having to hire an accountant or tax preparer to be a distortion of behavior (and an economic inefficiency).

People may disagree, but this is what an ideal income tax structure would look like for me:

1) All income treated the same, whether it came through labor, through investments, or even through inheritance**. That means no payroll taxes and no lower rates for capital gains. This will cause the least distortion of economic behavior.

2) A personal exemption from taxes for all income to well above the poverty line. The amount of this exemption would be higher for those with children, just as the poverty line is higher for those with children. The harm caused by the loss of any income to someone living in poverty or close to it is far greater than the harm caused to others by loss of income. This would make sure those most vulnerable didn't get hurt.

3) No other exemptions or deductions for anything other than charitable contributions***. Nothing. No deductions for interest paid on mortgages, no deductions for childcare or health care, nothing. You want a simple tax code, this is your baby. Once you start introducing complications, things go downhill fast. This would keep the tax code easy and simple to understand, and would eliminate distortions. The fewer the exemptions, the lower rates can be for everybody.

4) A steeply progressive tax code, with brackets starting at 5% for income just above the personal exemption, going up at 5% intervals from there. I'd probably cap the brackets at 45% for income over $1 million and 50% for incomes over $5 or 10$ million, maybe with another 5% tacked over $50 million, but these are pretty much arbitrary numbers (I've never understood why someone making $200 million is in the same bracket as someone making $200 thousand). At no point would there be a huge disincentive to earning more, except perhaps at the top end (and that would still be a mild disincentive). Even with so many brackets, you could still look up the exact amount owed in the back of the instruction booklet.

5) Corporations and LLCs would be subject to taxation as if they were people, same rates and everything. If income was distributed as dividends, it would be taxable at the individuals rate but the corporation wouldn't have to pay taxes on that portion of income. Stock owned by overseas investors would still be subject to taxation in America and so would income earned in America by overseas corporations. This would eliminate the weird distortion we have now in which a corporation competing against an individual is at a competitive advantage since it pays less in taxes. If would also eliminate the situation in many companies in which profits aren't distributed as dividends because major shareholders don't want to pay taxes on all that income. Of course, it would completely eliminate the incentive to incorporate offshore to avoid federal taxes. This added tax burden would be partially offset by corporations no longer having to pay payroll taxes on their employees, and perhaps even by savings on tax preparation and accounting (should they choose not to try dodging their share of taxes).

That's it! A five-step tax code. Of course, there would still be reams of fine print defining what was and was not income and making it hard to shield income from taxation, but it would make things better for the vast majority of Americans. It would also shift a large part of the tax burden to corporations, and away from individuals (one of the great unnoticed stories of the last twenty years is that corporations pay less than half the tax burden they did in 1980).

This is also, needless to say, impossible in today's political climate. There hasn't been a move towards a simpler tax code since '86, and it made the code considerable less progressive. Bush's tax bill not only make the code more complex, but it also made it far less progressive. Too many special interests have too much invested in the current structure to want it to go away completely. Of course, we're also unlikely to see many politicians falling all over themselves to raise taxes on their donor base even if it meant lowering taxes for the people in greatest need.

Even if a tax structure like this is impossible to implement politically, we can still work towards one like it incrementally. The easiest place to start would be to insist that all future tax cuts come out of the lowest bracket (which we all pay), rather than out of the highest (which most of us don't). We could also do something to reduce the burden of payroll taxes on the working poor and to eliminate tax dodges at the high end of the spectrum.

* Some taxes that distort or discourage behavior would be worth keeping around, because the behavior in question is worth discouraging but shouldn't be made illegal. I'd include tobacco, gasoline, and alcohol taxes in this category. I don't want the government telling people they can't smoke, they can't drink, or they can't drive around all guzzling gas; but I think these activities are harmful enough to discourage through the tax code. The taxes raised, of course, could be easily earmarked to ameliorate the damage caused by the activitt in the first place. I realize that taxes on this activity would hit the low income harder than the high income, but it would still be worth it.

**There are "fairness" questions to be raised on both sides of the inheritance tax debate, depending on whether you focus on the dead guy who is leaving the estate or the live guy who's getting it without having done any work. I think it's easiest to sidestep this by simply declaring inheritances to be taxable income. It would be easy to make personal effects below a certain monetary value exempt, as well as to make very low interest loans available to those who inherit one major asset (a home, a business, or a farm) so that taxes can be paid over time without selling the asset.

***Charities would be the flip side of taxes on tobacco, etc. Charitable giving is an activity that we want to encourage and it's fairly simple do so. Even though we want to encourage home ownership, a deduction for mortgage interest really acts as a subsidy of those who can afford to buy homes by those who can't (especially since someone with a large mortgage and a high tax bracket saves considerably more than someone with a small mortgage and a low tax bracket). It's better to make tax rates as low as possible and allow people to buy homes or not as they wish.

Clarification: Corporations and self-employed individuals would still be able to write off legitimate business expenses, as income taxes would only apply to net profits, not to every penny taken in. There would, however, be strict oversight to make sure only actual cash out-of-pocket expenses were used. I'd probably disallow the practice of applying previous year's losses against this year's taxes (and I'd definitely discontinue the practice of corporations aquiring defunct companies with huge previous losses just to cut taxes in future years).

I've been told that my blog has been unreadable for the last few days by Mozilla and the latest Netscape. If you have either and can read this, please leave a comment.

Update: Are any of you that have problems also having problems with other blogspot blogs?

I changed my archive template a few days ago, but I haven't touched the main template.
I'm wondering if it could be a blogspot problem.

Updated Update: It seems to be fixed now, please email if problems crop up again.

Thursday, November 21, 2002

Secret Transcript, Not For Dissemination

As transcribed by playwright Jim Sherman:

George: Condi! Nice to see you. What's happening?
Condi: Sir, I have the report here about the new leader of China.
George: Great. Lay it on me.
Condi: Hu is the new leader of China.
George: That's what I want to know.
Condi: That's what I'm telling you.
George: That's what I'm asking you. Who is the new leader of China?
Condi: Yes.
George: I mean the fellow's name.
Condi: Hu.
George: The guy in China.
Condi: Hu.
George: The new leader of China.
Condi: Hu.
George: The Chinaman!
Condi: Hu is leading China.
George: Now whaddya' asking me for?
Condi: I'm telling you Hu is leading China.
George: Well, I'm asking you. Who is leading China?
Condi: That's the man's name.
George: That's who's name?
Condi: Yes.
George: Will you or will you not tell me the name of the new leader of China?
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Yassir? Yassir Arafat is in China? I thought he was in the Middle East.
Condi: That's correct.
George: Then who is in China?
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Yassir is in China?
Condi: No, sir.
George: Then who is?
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Yassir?
Condi: No, sir.
George: Look, Condi. I need to know the name of the new leader of China. Get me the Secretary General of the U.N. on the phone.
Condi: Kofi?
George: No, thanks.
Condi: You want Kofi?
George: No.
Condi: You don't want Kofi.
George: No. But now that you mention it, I could use a glass of milk. And then get me the U.N.
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: Not Yassir! The guy at the U.N.
Condi: Kofi?
George: Milk! Will you please make the call?
Condi: And call who?
George: Who is the guy at the U.N?
Condi: Hu is the guy in China.
George: Will you stay out of China?!
Condi: Yes, sir.
George: And stay out of the Middle East! Just get me the guy at the U.N.
Condi: Kofi.
George: All right! With cream and two sugars. Now get on the phone.
(Condi picks up the phone.)
Condi: Rice, here.
George: Rice? Good idea. And a couple of egg rolls, too. Maybe we should send some to the guy in China. And the Middle East. Can you get Chinese food in the Middle East?


I've noticed over the last 10 weeks that the easiest ways to get hits on my site are to write about guns, mention Bill Clinton's penis, and call people names. The next best way is to mention the ins-and-outs of daily Beltway politics. So, in a concerted effort to drive away visitors, I 'm not gonna do that stuff for a while (though I will write one post on guns).

I'm really not interested in Bill Clinton's penis, so I'll leave that one to the conservatives still obsessed with it, and calling idiots idiots gets old real quick. There are people like Joshua Micah Marshall, Daily Kos, and MyDD who are much better than I at following politics as it happens. There are also sites like Atrios and BuzzFlash that are really good at keeping up with the latest right-wing outrages.

As I've pointed out before, I think political people in general and politicians in particular need to decide where they stand on the issues before they enter the arena. If they can't sit down with a pad of paper and sketch out where they stand on the major issues of the day without once thinking about major contributors or interest groups, if they don't genuinely hold convictions of their own, they've got no business in politics. So, as an exercise in putting my money where my mouth is, I'm going to spend the next few weeks laying out where I stand on the issues that face us as a nation and as citizens of the world. I'll try to stick to one topic per weekday (usually, but not always, in one long post), and will almost exclusively use my own words (though I'll make a spot every once in a while for those who I agree with on that particluar topic).

I won't, in the next few weeks, comment on current events much at all, nor will I comment much on what other bloggers are saying (unless it happens to coincide with my topic). This, of course, may change if events dictate, especially if we go to war in Iraq. So that's it. One topic per weekday until I run out of shit to talk about. If anybody gets bored, there are a lot of links on the left side of the screen to explore.

Update: I will, at times, post a few odd tidbits like the conversation above, but not very often.

My Quote

I didn't think it quite fair to quote myself in the last post, so I'll do it now. This is something I wrote a while back:
As economic disparity increases, so does crime and political instability. Nations without upward mobility, without a social safety net, and with massive disparities in wealth survive only by military and police repression. This is not only worse for the poor, it's worse for the wealthy.

A police state constrains the mobility of the rich. It forces them to live in constant fear, walled off from the rest of society; and it forces them to put blinders on to ignore the realities of life for their fellow countrymen.

Making a Point Through Quotes

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main..
- John Donne

We may not have come over on the same boat, but we're all in the same boat now.
- Jesse Jackson

The central conservative truth is that it is culture, not politics, that determines the success of a society. The central liberal truth is that politics can change a culture and save it from itself..
- Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Evil requires no suffering or repentance to be cured, only the numbing sedation of bourgeois democracy and prosperity for decade after decade after decade until the pattern becomes so ingrained that not even an economic disaster can affect it. .
- Robert Kaplan

We can have a democratic society or we can have concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. We cannot have both.
- Louis Brandeis

Those who oppose all reform will do well to remember that ruin in its worst form is inevitable if our national life brings us nothing better than swollen fortunes for the few and the triumph in both parties and business of a sordid and selfish materialism..
- Theodore Roosevelt

Everyone has a stake in creating a less anxious, more egalitarian society. In fact, from the point of view of the currently affluent, the greatest danger is not that a class-conscious, left-leaning political alternative will arise, but that it will not.......there will be no mainstream, peacable political outlets for the frustrations of the declining middle class or the desperations of those at the bottom. Instead, it is safe to predict that there will be more crime, more exotic forms of political and religious sectarianism, and, ultimately, that we will no longer be one Nation, but two.
- Barbara Ehrenreich

Marat we're poor, and the poor stay poor. Marat we don't want to wait anymore. We want our rights and we don't care how. We want our Revolution NOW!
- Peter Weiss

This is why I say it's the ballot or the bullet. It's liberty or it's death. It's freedom for everybody or it's freedom for nobody.
- Malcolm X

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

"What a mystery is this, that Christianity should have done so little good in the world!
Can any account of this be given? Can any reasons be assigned for it?"
You are John Wesley!

When things don't sit well with you, you make a big production and argue your way through everything.
You complain a lot, but, at least you are a thinker and not afraid to show it. You are also pretty
liked by people, and pretty methodological about your life and goals. You know where you're going.
Some people find you irritating, so watch out for people leaving you out of things they do.

What theologian are you?

A creation of Henderson

That seems pretty much right, especially the parts about complaining and irritating people.
(found via Junius)

Stop the Insanity

Did I miss something? Are women now being paid and treated equally to men all over the world? Are they no longer being battered? Are they no longer having problems finding adequate healthcare, safe neighborhoods to live in, and good schools for their kids? Are women no longer being sold into prostitution in Thailand and India? Are they no longer being beaten for not covering their hair and bodies in Saudi Arabia and Iran? Are they no longer being sentenced to death for having premarital sex in Nigeria? Are they no longer afraid to walk big city streets alone here in America?

In short, has every real problem facing women all over the world already been solved? If not, I want to stop hearing about a few really, really rich women not being allowed to join a golf club in Augusta Georgia. There are much more important things to talk about and work towards.

This was supposed to be a picture of Rev Sun Myung Moon (owner of the Washington Times and noted cult leader) giving a big bear hug to Jerry Falwell. You can see it here.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

The Tax Cut

Taxes aren't the only economic issue that the Democrats need to make a big splash on, but it's the one people notice most. For too long, the Republicans have gotten away with referring to the tax and spend Democrats. Better the airwaves be filled with Republicans whining that the Democrats want to cut taxes for ordinary people and raise them for rich folks. At least that way there'd be clear battle lines, with the vast majority of the voters benefitting much more from Democratic proposals than Republicans ones. In the last 20 years, the tax code has been tilted increasingly toward the rich and corporations and the tax burden has been shifted onto the backs of the middles class (check out Kevin Phillips' book The Politics of Rich and Poor). A Democratic proposal should try to rectify some of that tilt while garnering political support from people who may not agree with the Democrats on all social issues, but don't agree with the Republicans on economic ones.

Matthew Yglesias wants to eliminate payroll taxes and a lot of other people have suggested cancelling Bush's tax cut for the highest bracket and using that money to cut payroll taxes. The former idea has its merits, but isn't workable anytime soon (although I'd love to eliminate payroll taxes and fund Social Security out of general revenue, I just don't see it happening). The second is a very good start, but doesn't go far enough.

My own suggestion would be to make payroll taxes deductible (right now we all get taxed on the money we pay into Social Security as if it were regular income rather than money we pay in taxes), lift the cap on payroll taxes (currently pay over $80,000/year doesn't get payroll taxes taken out), and make income completely tax free up to the poverty line for everyone. That's right, no one pays a dime in payroll or income taxes on their income up to the poverty line. With the bigger personal deduction and with payroll taxes becoming deductible, this would give every under $100,000/year a tax cut.

Currently, a worker making $15,000/year pays over $1000/year in payroll taxes no matter how many deductions or dependents (since payroll taxes don't have deductions and start on the first dollar earned) and likely didn't get a dime from Bush's tax cut (since all workers pay payroll taxes, but many don't make enough to pay income taxes). A plan like mine would help a lot of folks who are struggling to get by, and would be easy to explain (always a plus when pushing a policy). It would also go a long way to restoring the progressivity in the tax code which got chipped away during the Reagan administration. Think people would be willing to keep the inheritance tax (which is only paid by the top 2% of estates) if it meant a tax cut that helped everyone? Me too.

(You'll notice what time I posted this. That XBOX sure kicks some serious ass. I started playing, then looked up and it was 4am)

Putting People First

Ever since the New Deal, the Democratic coalition has been primarily an economic one. Northern ethnic whites, urban blacks, and rural southern whites all voted Democratic because they had common economic interests. Then as now, the Republican Party was the party of the bosses, of the industrialists, of the millionaires, of the corporations, of the insurance companies, of all the people who had power because of their money and their positions in life. The Democrats were the party of the guys who didn't have power unless they banded together. Their votes counterbalanced the people who didn't need to vote to have influence.

This idea of the Democratic Party as a primarily economic coaltion started to fall apart because of the 60's and the Civil Rights movement. Lots of southern whites left the party because of integration, even though it was still where their economic interests lay. Lots more stayed out of economic self-interest, even though they disagreed with the Democrats on racial issues. Much the same dynamic has come into play as the Democrats have become publicly associated with gun control, feminism, gay rights, and legalized abortion.

In all these cases, people who agreed with the Democratic Party on economic issues began to vote against it because of social ones. Of course, there were also people who began to vote for the Democrats solely on social issues, but they were outnumbered by the ones voting the other way. As this transformation took place, the Democrats went from an absolute electoral majority to an even par with the Republicans in voter support. The Republicans road the Christian Coalition, the NRA, and the anti-60's backlash from a permanent minority to their current control of every branch of the Federal government.

Despite what it's done to the Democratic coalition, the gains of the Civil Rights movement (to ethnic minorities, to women, and to gays) have been worth the cost. America is a far better place than it would've been had Lyndon Johnson not chosen to sacrifice the southern dominance of the Democratic Party to further the rights of blacks; it's a far better place than it would've been had we not opened the door to women as equals to men in the workplace, in the home, and in society in general; and it's a far better place than it would've been had we forced gays and lesbians to stay in the closet. Whatever the price, making our country a more free, open, and tolerant place has been worth paying it.

The good news is that we won. It may not look like it right now, but we won on every social issue you can name (guns being a special case, neither really a social issue, nor an economic one). The process has already been set into motion, and there's nothing the wingnuts can do to stop it. My generation is far more open-minded about race, about religion, and about sex than my father's was. My son's is more open-minded than mine. By my great-grandkids generation the idea that we ever had laws against gay sex, that we ever had separate schools for blacks, and that we ever considered women as anything less than equals will be hardly believable. So, when you look at the current situation, at least know that we've won permanently on some really big issues.

Given that the progressives have won most of the big social battles of the last 40 years, I say it's time to deemphasize social issues and make the Democratic Party an economic coalition again. This is not to say we should give back the hard won social gains of the past, just that we should attempt to move the focus of electoral politics once again towards the bread-and-butter issues that win elections for Democrats (just as Republicans will continue to use social issues as wedges between black and white, between gay and straight, between religious and secular...because that's how they win).

Now, making economic issues the focus of the Democratic Party won't be easy, but it's doable. The Republicans will try to make elections about the social policies that win them votes, not about the economic policies that even most of their supporters don't agree with (*), but that won't be the biggest problem. The biggest problem will be untangling Democratic policies from the web of donors who keep the party funded.

Right now, the economic polices that would win the most support for the Democratic Party also happen to be the ones that their donors agree with least. As long as the banks, insurance companies, and drug companies can buy themselves influence from Democratic politicians, they will (even if they'd really prefer Republicans to win). As long as they continue to buy influence, the Democrats will be unable to take the economic positions that will win them electoral majorities. Of course, the Democrats also need money to win elections, and they get this money from their donors. There's a kinda chicken-and-the-egg dynamic going. That's why I said this would be tougher than fighting off the Republicans' efforts to make every election about Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion (with their modern sidekicks Guns, God, and Gays).

The most obvious change would be to the positions Democratic candidates take on economic issues. No longer can they try to be marginally better than Republicans while trying mightily not offend anyone who might write them a check. Playing it safe and refusing to take a stand allows the opponents to pick the issues to do battle with. This is how we've allowed the Republicans to position themselves as the Lower Taxes Party when they're really the Lower Taxes for Corporations and Rich Folks Party. The Democrats haven'[t put forth any realistic proposals other than opposition to tax cuts (never a winner electorally). Instead, they should've put forth their own proposal that dramatically lowered the tax burden on the middle and working classes while doing next to nothing for the top end. Unfortunately, plans like that don't get pushed by people trying to keep their donors happy above all else.

I'd also suggest a change in image for the Democrats, but not anything superficial. The Republicans have gotten a lot of mileage out of kicking the so-called "liberal elites" who are supposedly trying to make life hell for white male heterosexuals like myself. Now, a lot of that is pure bullshit and a bunch more is due to the confusion of the academic left (which is virtually powerless in real life, but tends to make itself a good target) and the political left as typified by unions and other power brokers within the Democratic Party. There's not much that anyone can do about leftist intellectuals pontificating and right-wing talking heads making it seem as if they represent the Democratic Party. We can, however, craft an alternate image for the party that revolves around family and community. That's the kind of thing that appeals to people regardless of their race or religion (and it'll make the talking heads look like the idiots they are when they try to say that Democrats are against families). A simple change in emphasis would work miracles in the PR department.

Monday, November 18, 2002

They Went Thataway

There's been a lot of speculation as to what direction the Democrats should go now. A lot of people (most of them moderates or conservatives) have said that the Democrats should become more moderate in order to capture the center. A lot of other people (most of them liberals) have said that the Democrats should become more openly progressive in order to energize their base. Since everybody else seems to be using this opportunity to push what they wanted to do anyway, I thought I'd join in.

As I've said before, the Democrats really didn't suffer a very big loss on election day, it just feels that way because the country is so evenly split. The Democrats could get by without any major changes, and still win their share of elections without any major difficulty. Like everyone else, I'm going to ignore this and suggest that the Democrats do what I wanted them to do anyway.

My solution: Go far left on economic issues, inch towards the center on social ones, and outflank the Republicans on foreign policy (by making things like trade and energy conservation into national defense issues while being tough as hell towards terrorism). This will make the biggest issue between the parties be the one where the Democrats have the biggest advantage, while forcing foreign policy into less of the black-and-white sort of thing that becomes a dick measuring contest.

(This was part of a much longer, inconherently rambling post that I swear I'll work on right after I get some pizza and play games on my XBOX for a few hours)

Saturday, November 16, 2002

My archives are back online, but now having problems with permalinks.
Oh, well.....

Will also be making a few changes to blogroll soon.

Thursday, November 14, 2002

Read This Now

Can the Democrats Be Revived (unnecessarily incendiary title courtesy of It's a dialogue on the future of the Democratic Party between Robert Reich and Joe Klein.

The first week of self-flagellation has been predictably banal. Some say move left. Some say move right. Both are right and both are wrong. If we're to have a vaguely interesting national debate, the Democrats have to move forward—away from the boring, tiny, and tactical issues, and language, and interest groups that the party has championed in recent years. This will mean a change in style as well as content. Above all, it will mean an extremely risky change in focus from the beloved and reliable geezers to the edgy, cynical, apathetic young people. The electorate has to be expanded. But the most valuable cache of votes isn't to be had in the poor neighborhoods—as admirable as such efforts may be—it is to be found on the college campuses, where the next generation of activists lives.

Joe, your criticisms of the Democratic Party presuppose the existence of a Democratic Party. But the fact is, as Gertrude Stein once said about Oakland, there's no there there. Millions of people call themselves Democrats, and several hundred thousand show up at Democratic state and national conventions. A Democratic National Committee raises money. But there's no real Democratic Party. Nothing like what the Republicans have. They have a network of conservative think tanks, a boatload of money to market the ideas that emerge from them, and spokespeople to sell them. They recruit and train prospective candidates. And they have discipline. My God, do they have discipline. They decide on a party line and stick with it. They even have oligarchs—the Republican Powerful who gathered together in 1996 and decided George W. Bush was going to be their candidate in 2000. What do Democrats have? Conferences on "The Future of the Democratic Party."...............

.............So, the first thing we need is a real party. Something with grass roots, with the capacity to think new ideas and market them. We need a movement that embraces all the people who have been left out, who have been screwed both by big corporations and big government—people who are working their asses off but aren't earning much more than they did a dozen years ago, who have grown cynical about every institution in American society but still love America with all their hearts.

But we can't have a movement unless we also have conviction and courage. Democrats used to have these things. Republicans have no monopoly on being tough against tyranny or hard-headed when it comes to domestic policy. For almost a century it was Democrats who waged war (Wilson, FDR, Truman, Kennedy, and Johnson), and it was mostly the kids of Democrats who fought in and got killed in wars. And for 60 years it's been Democrats who have managed the economy well—spending more than revenues and cutting taxes when the nation needed these things done to prevent the economy from sinking, and cutting deficits when they get out of control, as in 1993.

It takes no conviction and no courage to move to the Center. You want to be president, you campaign from the Center. But if you want to be a true leader, you define the Center. You don't rely on pollsters to tell you where the Center is, because you can't lead people to where they already are.

I don't agree with everything they say (I don't agree with everything anyone says), but this is well worth reading (even though Klein's dead wrong on the Dept of Homeland Security regarding Civil Service protections).

It's much more important to be talking about where we should be in 10-20 years than how we should position ourselves in 2 years (not that the short term isn't relevant, just that it sure as hell isn't the only thing that matters).

My own take on the short term:
Obstruct like hell on judicial nominations and anything else likely to be permanent
Raise hell whenever Bush sticks it to the little guy on economic issues, and have viable alternatives to talk about
Make sure regulatory agencies and R&D don't die on the vine from lack of funding
Give the Republicans enough rope to hang themselves on their social issues (which are really unpopular with lots of urban and suburban GOP voters)

My take on the long term:
Coming an interminable series of posts that should take until Thanksgiving to get online at a rate of one per day.

And read Jonathan Chait for his truly depressing take on what the Dems were facing last week and will face every election from now on:
The fact of the matter is the Republican Party enjoys certain basic advantages when it comes to getting its message across. One is that it has substantially more money for TV advertising. (Republicans touted this advantage while talking up their prospects prior to the election. Now that they've won, they ignore the impact of money completely.) The GOP also enjoys allied media outlets like Fox News and talk radio, which disseminate its message to its base in a way that Democrats can't duplicate..............

..............But, for the foreseeable future, Democrats will continue to lose, and the notion that smarter tactics or better leaders or even a sweeping strategic reconceptualization can rescue them from their predicament is little more than a comforting delusion.

Not that I'm nearly as pessimistic as Chait, but the Democrats do face some massive structural impediments in the media and in fundraising that shouldn't be overlooked. That's why GOP-style top down campaigns only work for the Corzine-Dayton set in the Democratic Party. The rest of us need to rely on old fashioned door knocking and grassroots organizing (a la Paul Wellstone).