Saturday, April 30, 2005

One More Voice for Centrism

The only proof you need that the centrist movement is exploding is the large number of centrist blogs hitting the Internet. One of the newest is A Little Left of Centrist, a great new blog covering both politics and culture.

It's always great to read a new centrist voice. Check it out.

The Tomato as Partisan Battle

Our two illustrious political parties can turn anything into a partisan battle. Including: the tomato.

Yep. That’s what it’s come to. Bitter fights over salad components.

Iraq is not Vietnam. Vietnam is not Iraq.

On the thirtieth anniversary of the fall of Saigon, we have a chance to look back and question what Vietnam meant. As the post-war generation moves into their 30s, more-and-more of our public officials, intellectuals and artists will have no direct knowledge of this war that so scarred America. What lessons should Vietnam leave those that were not there?

In today’s New York Post, Thomas H. Lipscomb says Vietnam was not a defeat. The fact that America showed it was willing to confront communism in Asia stopped the so-called “domino-effect” from occurring. We may not have saved Vietnam, but our presence there saved most of Asia.

To me, Lipscomb’s theory seems just one more piece in a disturbing trend I’ve noticed—call it the Vietnam-was-a-good war trend. But how could a war that nearly destroyed the home front and that ended in an unconditional withdrawal be considered “good?”

This desire to recast Vietnam is almost certainly more a symptom of the Iraq War than it is of any honest reconsideration. The logic: if Vietnam was good or, as some have claimed, our withdrawal was bad, then clearly we are right to stay in Iraq.

But this logic is flawed. Both the forces on the left and right have tried to make our current war relate to Vietnam. But Iraq is not Bush’s Vietnam as Senator Edward Kennedy has claimed. Nor, as Lipscomb says, does the experience of Vietnam justify Iraq.

Iraq is not Vietnam. The conflicts, goals and conditions are very dissimilar. The home front is generally united. The casualties far fewer. Vietnam, like all wars, should inform our modern conflicts, but it should not supersede all other analysis.

Vietnam was a bad war. And we should remember that. We shouldn’t try to rewrite history for the benefit of modern argument. But nor should we assume Iraq is also bad, just because the last major war ended so poorly. Too much of the Iraq War—indeed too much of the last election, of our national debate in general—too much of modern dialogue relies on Vietnam as the starting point and the touchstone for debate.

If we are to end the divisiveness in this country, if we are to halt the shouting and demonization, the post-Vietnam generation must not fall into the trap of refighting that aging battle. It’s been thirty years. How much longer before we can put the ghosts behind us?

Friday, April 29, 2005

Maybe the Minuteman Project Is a Good Idea

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has praised the Minuteman Project, AP reports. The governor said the group has done a good job of cutting down on illegal border crossings.

Make no mistake, there is an underlying xenophobia in the Minuteman Project. You can see it in their mission statement which makes no mention of terrorism but does say:

[T]he men and women volunteering for this mission are those who are willing to sacrifice their time, and the comforts of a cozy home, to muster for something much more important than acquiring more "toys" to play with while their nation is devoured and plundered by the menace of tens of millions of invading illegal aliens.

Future generations will inherit a tangle of rancorous, unassimilated, squabbling cultures with no common bond to hold them together, and a certain guarantee of the death of this nation as a harmonious "melting pot."

That is not the mission statement of a group concerned with the economic or security consequences of an unprotected border. This a group who’s paranoid that their culture will be supplanted by a foreign one.

That’s discomforting, but does it make the project a bad idea? Our southern border is terribly unprotected. The numerous economic consequences of illegal immigration would alone give need to better protection. Add to that the ease with which terrorists could enter the country and the Minuteman Project doesn’t seem all that crazy of an idea.

There are literally hundreds of men and women willing to stand guard on our borders for free. Is there not some way for state governments or the federal government to use this energy to create an official corps of minutemen volunteers? A little training and a few sensible regulations is probably be all that would be required to turn this group into an asset.

It’s worth looking into. Maybe Schwarzenegger’s California can lead the way.

Networks opt to drop President

Last night’s presidential news conference was originally slated to start at 8:30 PM EDT. However, it was moved to 8:00 PM after the WH realized that CBS, Fox and possibly NBC would not air it live.

Even with the time change, the end of the news conference was not seen by all. As the Chicago Tribune reports:
Shortly before 9 p.m., both CBS and NBC shifted away from Bush for analysis as the next-to-last question of the news conference was being asked. The networks ignored the last two questions and were airing "Survivor" and "The Apprentice" before the president finished talking.

While Social Security and Energy Policy may not draw the audience that “Survivor” and “The Apprentice” attract, the networks have an obligation to air the entire news conference. It is unusual that we get any more than a 6-10 second sound byte on a presidential initiative, and in the rare case that our nation gets the opportunity to hear the President explain (albeit not as thoroughly as I would have liked), the major media outlets should broadcast the entire message.

The government regulates broadcast spectrum and would be within their rights to include provisions requiring companies to provide broadcast opportunities for political and public service purposes within the contracts licensing the use of the spectrum.

In fact, as part of campaign finance reform initiatives, all major networks should be required to provide free advertising time for all major candidates for office. This would lessen the impact of money on elections (especially in the expensive media markets in major metropolitan areas) and it would provide an opportunity for everyone to be heard.

The Problem with Democrats (and Republicans)

Democrats treat us all like children. So says Davod Gelernter in today’s LA Times, In his essay, Gelernter concludes:

That's the whole basis of Democratic philosophy (I use the term loosely). We'll take care of you. Leave the thinking to us. Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, minority leaders of the House and Senate, respectively, — kindly Mom and Pop to a nation of intellectually limited youngsters. (But thank goodness, they love us anyway.)…

It all goes back to central planning, socialism, Marxism…"We are smart; you are dumb." That's the Infantile American Principle in a nutshell.

There is truth to this. Because Democrats have a Marxist-inspired world view where all problems are the direct result of oppression, they see their role as the protectors of the weak. It’s not that they think we can’t take care of ourselves, it’s that they think we don’t have the strength to fight our oppressors alone. So they support systems that protect us.

Oppression does happen and sometimes protections are needed. But the problem with the Democrats is that they fight oppression to the exclusion of supporting any other type of solution. Then again, the problem with the Republicans is that they often fight immorality to the exclusion of supporting any other type of solution.

157 years after Karl Marx released his Communist Manifesto the Democratic philosophy, indeed most all liberal thought, is still dominated by the paradigms of Marx. The time has come to leave that tired old thinking behind. Much in the same way as the time has come to leave theocratic urges behind. We do not need constant protection from perceived oppressors any more than we need constant protection from perceived immorality.

We say to both the Democrats and the Republicans: stop telling us how to live our lives. When we need your protection, we’ll ask for it.

Democrats Should Welcome New Twist on Bush's Social Security Plan

In President Bush’s by-the-talking-points news conference last night, one statement stood out. Bush said:

By providing more generous benefits for low-income retirees, we'll make this commitment: If you work hard and pay into Social Security your entire life, you will not retire in poverty.

The White House clarified that what the President is proposing is private accounts combined with a "sliding-scale benefit formula” that would mean lower Social Security payments for future middle- and upper-income retirees than they are currently guaranteed.

Would the Democrats view this new idea as the chance to craft a compromise? Not a chance. Predictably, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid immediately released a statement saying the President’s plan would gut benefits for middle class seniors and they will continue their opposition.

This smacks of obstructionism for obstructionism’s sake. Lower income workers have a much more difficult time saving for retirement, but middle class earners and certainly upper class earners have extra income and should be expected to have the responsibility to save for themselves. And all earners would still have a chance to put into private accounts, supplementing their guaranteed benefits.

What if the private accounts weren’t compulsory but worked like 401k accounts. Those that put in get some sort of government match. Those that don’t put in can keep their money. Combine that with sliding-scale guaranteed benefits and you’re on to something. A just society should not let its seniors live in crushing poverty. But a just society has no obligation to write checks to seniors that can already afford a comfortable retirement.

The President’s sliding-scale idea provides the opening to craft a plan that could shore up the system, guarantee benefits for the most needy and provide private accounts to those who want them. With some Democratic-initiated modifications, this could actually be the best idea for saving and reforming the system.

Perhaps when the numbers are run, the President’s plan will fall short. But the Democrats should still be able to recognize an interesting idea when one is proposed. By flat-out rejecting the idea of a sliding scale, the Democrats are once again showing that they’re completely unable to get their thinking out of the New Deal/Great Society paradigm.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Frist Offers Compromise on Filibuster

The Washington Post reports that Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist has offered a compromise on the judicial filibuster stand-off. He will guarantee 100 hours of debate on each nominee if the Democrats will guarantee the nominees will get an up-or-down vote.

Reports are that the Democrats will reject the offer. And that’s no surprise. The Democrats have absolutely no interest in debate—they just want to keep the nominees of the bench. The only possible compromise that seems available is one where some nominees are permitted a vote while others are never brought to the floor at all.

If the Democrats wanted a debate, they’d be using their air time to provide detailed arguments as to why these judges are unqualified. But instead they use their air time to attack the so-called “nuclear option.” Once again, the major parties are distracting the American people with a side show.

But will either side blink? It’s always possible. No party wants to look weak. But neither do they want the American people to accuse them of obstructing the business of the United States. Right now, polls indicate that Democrats are winning the beauty contest. So look for them to reject Frist’s offer and continue the stare down.

This is how our parties are running the country now. Everything is a death match.

Army Expressly Bans Harsh Interrogation Techniques

There still needs to be a full congressional investigation into the prisoner abuses at Abu Ghraib and elsewhere, but there is progress being made on other fronts.

The New York Times is reporting:

The Army is preparing to issue a new interrogations manual that expressly bars the harsh techniques disclosed in the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuse scandal, and incorporates safeguards devised to prevent such misconduct at military prison camps in the future, Army officials said Wednesday.

The new manual, the first revision in 13 years, will specifically prohibit practices like stripping prisoners, keeping them in stressful positions for a long time, imposing dietary restrictions, employing police dogs to intimidate prisoners and using sleep deprivation as a tool to get them to talk, the officials said.

Those practices were not included in the manual in use when the bulk of the abuses occurred at Abu Ghraib in Iraq in the fall of 2003, but neither were they specifically banned.

This does not put an end to the issue, but it’s good to see the Army directly condemning such deplorable interrogation techniques.

Guerilla Artists Come Up Short

A group being described as “guerilla artists” decided they wanted to protest the profusion of gated communities in Los Angeles. So they built some gates.

Targeting three upscale neighborhoods, the group, dubbing itself Heavy Trash, erected large guard towers as a statement in favor of more open communities. Photos are here.

Thing is, no one knows what the heck those “towers” are or what the heck they mean. In the Reuters report, not a single resident nor passerby got the symbolism. And after looking at the photos, I can see why. They look like something that might escape from the cubist side of Christo’s mind.

And that’s the problem. This isn’t just bad art. This is bad civil disobedience. I mean, if you’re going to be a vandal, at least make the point obvious. Whatever happened to just spray painting “Bourgeois Pig” on a wall?

Crazy activist groups looking for windmills to fight should at least bring their A game so us reasonable people can get all worked up about it and properly condemn them. Heavy Trash’s shop project just ain’t going to cut it.

More Ways to Walk The Yellow Line

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Centrists Don't Need a Third Party to Win

Political Scientist Brendan Nyhan thinks a centrist third party won’t happen. He concludes:

Even the voters who would prefer a centrist third-party candidate have no incentive to support him if he is in third place because doing so will hurt their second choice. Absent extraordinary circumstances, it's almost impossible to dislodge the parties and create a dynamic where a third party candidate can become one of the top two contenders. This is why so few liberals supported Nader in 2004, and why Perot lost by large margins in 1992 and 1996.

Unfortunately, he has a point. As we analyzed a few days ago, the electoral college is a monster for a third-party presidential candidate. It wouldn’t be enough to win a plurality of the national vote. The candidate would have to win a majority of electoral votes. Even the most successful third-party candidate would almost certainly be unable to get the 270 needed. At best, the candidate would win just enough to prevent either major party candidate from getting 270, thus throwing the whole election into the House, where the third party candidate wouldn’t even be a factor.

Right now, the best plan of action for us centrists is to forcefully advance our principles and bring our vision into the mainstream. We don’t have to tie ourselves to either major party and we certainly don’t have to form a third party. But we have to organize. We have to develop a coherent message and a strong strategy.

As always, we welcome everyone’s thoughts and energy on this. Millions of Americans are sick and tired of the divisiveness promoted by the two parties. Our voices must be heard.

House Repeals Ethics Rules

The House voted overwhelmingly to repeal controversial rules that had kept its ethics committee from functioning. The vote is expected to pave the way for a new investigation of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the Los Angeles Times reports.

The House voted 406-20 to repeal the provisions hours after House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) told reporters that he would recommend the repeal of new ethics committee rules. Critics of the new rules adopted in January had charged they were aimed at shielding DeLay from further investigations.

The Yellow Line welcomes the House vote and looks forward to seeing the results of an investigation into DeLay's activities.

Iraqi Government Ends Impasse, Creates a Cabinet

Iraq took another important step toward self rule today. As reported by CNN, Iraq’s National Assembly approved a list of cabinet members, thus creating a government and allowing Prime Minister Ibrahim al-Jaafari to assume his post. This development ends a long impasse and singles the Iraqi leadership’s continued commitment to making their new government viable.

They still have a very long road ahead. The country remains under the constant threat of violence as we saw in yesterday’s assassination of National Assembly woman Lamee'a Abd Khidawi. But the brave members of the Iraqi government should be praised for their determination. Whatever you think of our decision to invade Iraq, we should all support giving this new government the absolute best chance at success.

That means our troops will be in Iraq and will be harms way for many more months. But to abandon Iraq now would be a horrible mistake. More than one of our readers has called the conflict a “lost cause.” The Iraq National Assembly’s ability to work through their impasse and create a government proves that the people of Iraq don’t consider this a lost cause. And neither should we.

Too little too late to reduce oil prices

President Bush yesterday unveiled a series of energy initiatives, including building more oil refineries an nuclear plants to combat the energy problem. The proposal also includes an expansion of the president’s tax credit proposal, which currently applies to hybrid and fuel-cell vehicles, to include those using new clean diesel technology.

The president acknowledged that the efforts will do little to immediately impact soaring gas prices. Nor do these reforms go far enough.

Basic supply and demand theory dictates that oil and gas prices will not fall as long as demand stays high. While the US Department of Energy expects growth in global oil demand to slow in 2005, it is still growing. And, the DoE report points out that production is decreasing.

The Bush administration needs to strongly support new technology to reduce demand. Automobile manufacturers should be held to tougher fuel efficiency standards, the proposal for new nuclear reactors must be completely fleshed out (At the time of the announcement, administration officials were not prepared to discuss specifics relating to the president’s proposed “risk insurance,” designed to mitigate the costs of delays in the licensing of new reactors), and support research and development of alternatives to oil/gas.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

Laptop Reveals the Growing Threat from Zarqawi

A February 20th U.S. Special Forces ambush in Iraq missed Al Qaeda leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi. But it did nab the terrorist’s laptop.

Now, Fox News is reporting that the laptop contains a treasure trove of information. The bad news is that Zarqawi has been expanding his operations outside of Iraq. The good news is, we now know many of the details.

The information on the laptop reveals how increasingly urgent it is for Zarqawi to be captured or killed. He is not just a danger to our soldiers and the Iraqi people but also to the whole of the middle east and quite possibly those of us here at home. The destabilization of Iraq gave Zarqawi the room in which to operate. Stopping him is now one of the keys to that nation’s and the region’s stability.

Let’s hope that information on the laptop can help lead to this murderer’s quick demise.

We Need a Full Congressional Investigation into Prisoner Abuse

We may never know the full truth behind the Abu Ghraib prisoner abuses or the alleged abuses that have happened elsewhere. In today’s political environment, any topic, no matter how serious, is subject to spin.

Witness the dueling opinions released today, one from The Wall Street Journal and one from the nonprofit Human Rights Watch.

The WSJ’s opinion scolds the media and Democrats for hyping the Abu Ghraib abuses. The WSJ believes the military’s investigation has been honest, thorough and conclusive and questions why, if the abuse was so widespread as some have alleged, have there been no whistleblowers.

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch has looked into allegations and concludes:

The crimes at Abu Ghraib are part of a larger pattern of abuses against Muslim detainees around the world. The coercive methods approved by senior U.S. officials and widely employed over the last three years include tactics that the United States has repeatedly condemned as barbarity and torture when practiced by others.

Should we believe the conservative Wall Street Journal or the liberal Human Rights Watch? Both are basing their opinions on the same information and neither has done any on-site investigations (the prisons are off-limits to them both). Unfortunately, it’s quite possible that no amount of evidence would change the opinion of either group.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t know what to do. In the case of Abu Ghraib, the abuses were so ugly and the wrongfulness so clear that we simply cannot err on the side of blind trust. And in regards to the allegations of widespread abuse, the consequences of not doing a thorough investigation far outweigh the consequences of conducting one.

Congress has looked into the matter on several occasions but needs to conduct a much more substantial investigation, potentially impaneling a bi-partisan commission. According to a Washington Post, report, “Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, has vowed to hold more hearings until he is satisfied that the proper people are held accountable.”

Warner should do so. If the Wall Street Journal is right and this is all a bunch of noise about a little matter, then both the Bush Administration and the military should have no problem accepting full scrutiny by Congress. If, however, Human Rights Watch is correct and there is a widespread pattern of prisoner abuse, then the need for an investigation becomes critical and to obstruct one would be criminal.

We may not know whom to believe, but we certainly know what to do.

A Voice for Darfur

Another week has passed and still the international community does little constructive to stop the genocide in Darfur, Sudan. But we won’t stop writing about it. And we won’t stop urging action.

Today, The Coalition for Darfur profiles a man who has made it is mission to alert the world to the crimes in Darfur. For two years, Smith College literature professor Eric Reeves has been writing weekly updates and analysis of the situation, providing a voice when few were speaking. From the beginning, he has called this a genocide and his warnings that violence would only increase have proved horribly true.

The Yellow Line wishes there were more people like Eric Reeves. That more people would listen. That the international community would act and act now.

We also offer our thoughts and prayers to Reeves as he battles leukemia. His work has been invaluable.

Judges and Ice Cream

In a news item from last weekend that has been overlooked, conservative Christian groups gathered at a Dairy Queen restaurant in Westminster, Colorado on Sunday to put pressure on Colorado Sen. Ken Salazar (D) over the issue of Senate filibusters of conservative judicial nominees. The Dairy Queen is owned by the Senator’s wife.

Rumor has it that the protestors were also upset with the restaurant's decision to serve the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Blizzard believing that a strict interpretation of the Dairy Queen menu only allows the restaurant to serve Original! Blizzard Flavor Treats.

Fighting for the Centrist Vision

Yesterday evening, The Yellow Line had a great meeting and conversation with John Avlon, author of Independent Nation and Mark Satin, author of The Radical Middle and editor of the Radical Middle newsletter.

First and foremost, there is unprecedented energy in the center. These two centrist writers/leaders are incredibly committed to advancing the cause of centrism and The Yellow Line is more than happy to join them.

The conversation was uplifting and energized and while there is no way we can cover the entire evening, we wanted to report on the key points of our discussion.

  1. We must communicate the conviction of Centrism to the media. With the great number of recent columns about centrism, the zeitgeist is ours to seize. Now is the time to break the media’s short-sighted belief that there are only two opinions to every issue. Centrist bloggers, make yourself known. Readers, contact your local papers, let the media know that Republicans and Democrats don't have a monopoly on ideas. Centrists are a force.

  2. We must be the base of support for centrist politicians. Being a centrist is about being a person of conviction. And we must support politicians who live up to our principles. Let your support be known. Contact the centrist politicians. Write letters to your local paper supporting our centrist leaders.

  3. Centrism is the heritage of American politics. And centrism is our future. Today’s politics of division obscure the truth that this is one nation, one people. We cannot let the two major parties dictate the terms of the debate for their own benefit. Republicans and Democrats seek issues to purposefully divide us and then ask us to choose the lesser of two evils. It doesn’t have to be that way. Centrism is the third way, the choice that rejects extremism and embraces real debate about real issues.

It is not enough for us to complain about the vitriol from the two parties. It’s not enough to reject the false polarization of the nation. We must act together to advance centrist principles. We must stand up to the extremists in both parties.

As centrists continue to group, The Yellow Line will lead the reporting. Let’s work toward building a common language and set of principles—let’s define this vision we share. And, as always, let us know your thoughts. Hundreds of you read The Yellow Line each day. Millions of Americans are centrists. Let’s make ourselves heard.

Daily Bad News for DeLay

Another day. Another piece of bad news for DeLay. New reports indicate that House Republicans are beginning to shy away from their embattled Majority Leader. The Washington Post is reporting:

House Republican leaders, acknowledging that ethics disputes are taking a heavy toll on the party's image, decided yesterday to rescind a controversial rule change that led to the three-month shutdown of the ethics committee, according to officials who participated in the talks.

The Post goes on to report that this rule change will be followed by further investigations into Tom DeLay’s questionable overseas trips paid for by a Washington lobbyist.

The Republican Party is right to rescind the rule changes. They simply can’t let DeLay’s ethics issues go unquestioned. But it will be interesting to see how strenuously the Majority Leader is investigated. Is this new development just a political calculation, or is the party turning on DeLay?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

DeLay's Newest Challenge

Former Democratic Congressional candidate and Tom DeLay opponent Richard Morrison has announced that he will not be running again in 2006. While Morrison ran surprisingly well in 2004, winning 41% of the vote, this news will certainly worry Majority Leader DeLay.

Morrison was a political novice whose positions were cut straight from run-of-the mill Democratic policy statements. A more experienced candidate would have likely done significantly better in the polls.

Enter that more experienced opponent. AP reports that former Houston Congressman Nick Lampson is now the most likely 2006 challenger of DeLay. Lampson, you see, was one of the Texas Democrats redistricted out of a seat when the Republican dominated Texas legislature decided to pull its power-grabbing stunt back in 2003. A stunt largely conceived of and coordinated by Tom DeLay.

Think Lampson is looking forward to this fight? Think he’ll have money pouring in from Democrats all of the country? This will be interesting.

Senate Opens Hearings on Social Security Reform as Top Republican Questions Private Accounts

The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is scheduled to open hearings on Social Security Reform today. The hearing will feature Robert Pozen of MFS Investment Management, who has proposed "progressive indexing" of benefits; Peter Orszag, a Clinton administration official who opposes private accounts; Peter Ferrara of the Free Enterprise Fund, who supports private accounts; Michael Tanner of the Cato Institute, who supports private accounts; and Joan Entmacher of the National Women’s Law Center, who opposes private accounts and cautioned against benefit cuts.

The central issue in the hearing and the general debate around Social Security reform is the president’s proposal which would let younger workers invest in private accounts income equivalent to 4 percentage points of their 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax. The president concluded a 60-day campaign to promote his privatization proposal today in Galveston, Texas. The president is gambling that private accounts will cushion the blow of future benefit cuts by creating an alternate stream of income that might benefit from compounding interest or higher rates of return.

The hearing comes hours after the panel’s leading Republican, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) said that the issue of private investment won’t solve the problem of keeping Social Security afloat. The president himself has recently conceded, according to CNN,
that individual investment accounts do not by themselves address the solvency issue.

According to the Associate Press:
The program [Social Security] currently takes in more in payroll taxes than it pays out in benefits to about 47 million recipients, including retirees, the disabled and survivors. That trend is projected to end in 2017, after the baby boom generation has begun retiring. By 2041, the system will have exhausted a trust fund built up to continue paying full retiree benefits. Then, according to program analysts, payroll taxes will be able to cover only about 72 percent of promised benefits.

Privatization is unlikely to succeed. Even if it does, there are far greater issues to address. According to CNN,
To address solvency, Bush has said he will consider many options, including raising the retirement age, lifting the amount of payroll earnings subject to Social Security tax and adjusting the formula used to calculate benefits.

Real Social Security reform will address the long-term solvency of the program. The Bush proposal to create private accounts does nothing to ensure the long-term viability of Social Security. Further private accounts are not guaranteed to generate returns greater than that of the current program, which would lead to benefit cuts beyond those needed if the current program was to remain in place.

Who Runs the Republican Party?

Bull Moose offers up a provocative post about the current workings of the Republican party. The gist:

Ultimately, the problem with conservatism is not the faith v. doubt dichotomy but rather the Party is now dominated by a money elite who realizes that the only way to maintain power is to exploit the cultural war divisions in the country. As the Moose has pointed out, GOP illuminati certainly do not leave their homes in the morning with a passion to prevent Jim from marrying John or to save a fetus from an abortionist. For instance, many have loved ones who are gay, or they may be gay themselves. The powers that be in the GOP are far more concerned about eliminating the estate tax for multimillionaires than halting the death of the unborn.

The Moose may be overstating the issue, but you absolutely should read the whole post. And, by the way, if you're not reading Bull Moose daily, you're missing one of the best blogs on the net.

A Unique Opportunity for Democrats

The Washington Post’s E.J. Dionne Jr. has joined the moderate rumblings with a column claiming that moderates are getting angry. He notes:

The latest poll to bring home this message was released late last week by the Democracy Corps, a Democratic consortium led by pollster Stan Greenberg and consultant James Carville. Greenberg and Carville are not triumphalist. They are careful to note that "Democrats are not yet integral to the narrative" of American politics and that the decline in the Republicans' public image "is not accompanied by image gains for the Democrats." Democrats still have a lot of work to do.

But one finding deserves more attention than it has received: The "biggest drops" in the Republicans' standing, the pollsters noted, "have come from people who do not identify with a party," with "those who describe themselves as ideologically moderate."

I’m sure those on the far right and on the far left will say the poll was skewed to fit Carville’s aim of a more centrist Democratic party. But there’s plenty of reason to think the poll is right (not least of which is the explosion of centrist blogs since the election).

This is a unique opportunity for the Democrats. Will the party leaders seize the opportunity to claim the center? Or will they continue to pretend that pandering to their narrow base is the best way to victory?

Syrians Leave Lebanon

Has there been a more surprising story this year than Syria's pull-out from Lebanon? My generation grew up with Beirut as the symbol of Middle East violence and horror. To see it now as the symbol of burgeoning freedom is a heartening development.

Time for Centrists to Fight Back

Ronald Brownstein’s LA Times column about the possibility of a centrist third party has raised a lot of interest in the Centrist blogosphere (Charging RINO has a good round-up of reaction).

But should forming a new party be our strategy? The Yellow Line decided to investigate. The results cannot be summed up in a short post but it’s well worth the read.

Centrists have always claimed they represent the mainstream of American sentiment. But third parties are most frequently the domain of fringe groups like the Marxist Socialist Party or the theocratic isolationist American Heritage Party (this site has a great list of America’s wacky third parties). But as the Dems and Repubs become the fringes, who will speak for the center?

There hasn’t been a successful third party since the Republicans showed up in the 1850s-60s. Can another shift happen? Assuming the Internet can make organization and financing possible (and it can be done as Howard Dean’s insurgent Democratic candidacy proved), here are the three main obstacles a Centrist Party must overcome to elect a President:

  1. Candidates: Who would run down ticket? The party cannot be based on the presidential candidate alone or the party will be consumed by that personality. Think Ross Perot’s Reform Party, the Pat Buchanan-based America First Party or even the Green Party that was so consumed by Ralph Nader in 2000 that they essentially kicked him out of the party. The Yellow Line has supported a party begun by John McCain but the Senator would need to get a solid number of other high-profile politicians to join him. This could happen if the two parties continue to push away their centrists.

  2. Debates: The two parties conspire against third party Presidential candidates and the media capitulates. As the Citizen’s Debate Council points out, the system is rigged. Ross Perot got in but only because he hadgreat poll numbers. For a Centrist Party candidate to get an invite, he or she would clearly need a lot of media coverage and exceptional poll numbers before the debates are set. Again, this is reasonable if an already high-profile politician is on the ticket.

  3. Electoral College: This is the biggie. A Centrist wouldn’t need to just win the popular vote, but would have to win actual states. Can it happen? Let’s make a big assumption and agree that the “battleground states” are most likely to go Centrist. If all 14 went Centrist, the candidate would still be 109 electoral votes short. But how red are the red states and how blue are the blue states and how much is just regional habit? It’s not unforeseeable that a Centrist candidate could be competitive throughout the West and the Upper South as well as the Midwest and Southwest. Daunting but still possible—particularly if the Republicans and Democrats run divisive candidates.

So a Presidential win has an outside shot. But a Centrist Party would need more than just a strong Presidential candidate. The problem is, third parties don’t have much of a chance at becoming dominant parties. As the excellent Cornell Library site points out:

Third-party candidates for the Presidency have been far more influential in raising public awareness about particular issues and affecting the tenor of political discourse, than in winning votes. The two dominant parties have often adopted concerns championed by a third party, ironically diminishing the third party’s power.

True. But even though Centrists would be far from a one-issue party, think about this: with the government so closely divided between Democrats and Republicans, just 10 Centrist Party Senators and 50 Centrist Party Representatives would be the deciding factor in almost all controversial legislation. Without having a majority, the Centrists would still wield extraordinary power.

Would centrist-leaning voters be willing to abandon the Democrats and Republicans, the parties they helped build, the parties that they thought they controlled until very recently? Centrists are rationale people not likely to, as they say, “throw their vote away.” As such, a third-party grassroots movement can only entice so many members. In the end, it will take well-known politicians having the nerve to leave their own parties and join the fledgling Centrist Party. They’d be giving up a hell of a lot and putting their name and faith in a group without the network, the funds or the influence of the other parties.

But there is another option. We could mount our own insurgency within one of the parties—the Democrats, being out of power, are the most obvious target. But we’d have to prove our candidates and ideas can win as opposed to candidates and ideas baked by MoveOn and their ilk. The current Democratic centrists, the DLC, haven’t been great at laying out a vision for where they want to take the country. Could a new Centrist group aligned with the Dems do better? We have to think we can.

And the group built as an insurgent part of the Democrats could branch off to become its own party—or better yet, force the MoveOn wing to break away and form its own party. This could be our best strategy. There are certainly others.

But what we can’t do is just wait and see how it all shakes out. We can’t just poke at both parties and hope, just maybe, one will nominate a centrist for President. We need to make our voices heard in a loud and clear way. We need to do more than just support Centrists of both parties—we need to make sure there is a party for centrists. And the Internet can make this happen.

At The Yellow Line, we’re just idealistic enough to think it can be done. It wouldn’t be easy. It might take several elections to see results. But we must undertake the task.

Let’s hear some thoughts—not why it can’t be done, but how it should be done.

NOTE: The Centrist Coalition is a great resource that is beginning to form policy positions from a Centrist standpoint. They are currently not affiliated with either party but are gaining momentum.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Some Corporate Responsibility from Wal-Mart

Oft-criticized Wal-Mart has announced a move even their harshest detractors should applaud. According to an AP report:

All Wal-Mart stores will move many nonprescription cold and allergy medications behind pharmacy counters by June because they include an ingredient used to make the illegal stimulant methamphetamine, the company said Monday.

Thirteen states already have laws regulating over-the-counter medicines containing pseudoephedrine and 22 others and the federal government are working on legislation. Wal-Mart should be commended for being proactive and showing responsibility on this issue.

Russian Imperialism

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a statement to Parliament today that the demise of the Soviet Union was “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.” The recent actions by the Russian president to consolidate power, resurrect communist symbols, attack rivals, undermine popular results in the Ukraine election and criticize the treatment of Russian minorities in former Soviet Republics are alarming.

At a time when U.S. influence has waned across the world and our motives for action in Iraq are being questioned, President Bush would be well served by using his visit to Russia, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the end of WWII in Europe on May 9, to call for true democratic reforms in Russia.

The rantings of a dog owner

For the past two years, my two small dogs and I have been regular visitors to a local community park in my Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, D.C. When I first started visiting the park, it was often strewn with litter (including previously used condoms) and drug deals were occasionally seen happening in the ally along the back of the park. Since that time, a new elementary school has opened next door and the neighborhood – following the lead of the dog owners – has remade the park.

Today, the dog owners are being forced out of the park by a few neighbors who feel that the park is there for them and the children and not for use by those of us with dogs. The park neighbors have regularly called the DC Metropolitan Police and the National Park Service (which has jurisdiction over the park) telling them stories of “children being attacked” and “unsanitary conditions” in the park. Both the Metropolitan Police and the Park Service have begun regular patrols around the area in an effort to enforce the District of Columbia’s leash law (all dogs must be leashed at all times on public property within the District… no exceptions).

Neither of the allegations of the park’s neighbors is true. Without the dog owners cleaning the park on a daily basis, the park would be (once again) strewn with trash. And, the enforcement of the leash law has resulted in children (who are allegedly afraid of the dogs) leading the dogs on walks around the park before and after school each day so that their owners can stand and talk.

While all this is going on, a number of other area residents have repeatedly called the myriad of different law enforcement organizations that exist in the District in an effort to reduce car break-ins and drug dealing in the neighborhood to no avail. Why is it always the squeaky wheel that gets attention?

In a related development, Reuters is reporting that a new law in Turin, Italy, will require dog owners to walk their dogs three times a day. Dog owners will also be banned from dyeing their pets’ fur or “any other form of animal mutilation” for merely aesthetic motives. I wonder if we can get DC City Council approval for a similar law…. while creating dog parks and easing the city’s leash laws.

An Unlikely Supporter of Centrists

According to a Daily Kos post, the far-lefty site participated today in a conference call with Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) regarding the filibuster.

First, The Yellow Line is greatly unnerved by the thought of Daily Kos influencing policy in any manner. That said, this issue is actually alerting the “you’re-not-a-Democrat-unless-you’re-a-far-left-Democrat” crowd to the usefulness of centrists.

As Daily Kos says:

Apparently, there are a core of sane Republican Senators who realize the irreparable damage that would be caused by Frist's going "nuclear." These Republicans Senators appear to be Sens. McCain of Arizona, Chafee of RI, Snowe of Maine, Hagel of Nebraska, Collins of Maine, Sununu of New Hampshire, Smith of Oregon, Graham of South Carolina, Lugar of Indiana, Specter of Pennsylvania, Warner of Virginia.

As Democrats (or most of us anyway), there can be no doubt that we disagree much more than we agree with the above listed Republican Senators. But it would be wrong of us not to acknowledge and applaud the integrity, love of country and political courage these Senators are exhibiting in this situation. The political pressure they are facing must be enormous.

In politics, “integrity” is when a member of the opposite party sides with your party. But (and I’m not sure we’ve ever said this at TYL) Kos is right. The group of centrist Republicans that are opposed to the nuclear option are showing a level of common sense not often seen in today’s politics.

And that’s the value of centrism—an ability to see clearly and hold firm to personal convictions when your party is jumping into the deep end of partisan foolishness. It’s highly unlikely the denizens of Daily Kos will ever tolerate centrists in their own party, but this little moment of clarity on their part shows that even wingers realize: it’s centrists that keep this country sane.

Independent, Impartial and Fair Judges

Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, speaking at an event organized by Christian groups trying to rally churchgoers to support an end to judicial filibusters against judicial nominees, called for the judiciary to “be independent, impartial and fair” via a videotaped message, the AP reported.

The Yellow Line wholly endorses Frist’s comments on this aspect of the issue. A central tenant of our constitutional system is the independence and impartiality of our judicial system.

Regardless of whether or not one supports the politics behind judicial filibusters and the threats to end filibusters through the “nuclear option,” one cannot argue that the end result should be a judiciary that is independent, impartial and fair. Thus, the Yellow Line must question those who criticize judicial activism while calling for judges to be selectively active. These individuals would include:

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), among others, who has called for investigations and possible impeachment of judges they describe as activists.

Members of the US Congress, as well as President Bush and Florida Governor Jeb Bush, who supported federal judicial intervention in the Schiavo case.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, in the same CNN article Sen. Frist was quoted in, who claimed that putting more evangelicals on the court would mean rulings more in tune with the religious convictions of churchgoers.
"We are not asking for persons merely to be moral," Mohler said. "We want them to be believers in the Lord Jesus Christ."

The end of judicial filibusters, leading to the end of restraint in the selection of judges, poses a greater threat to the independence, impartiality, and fairness of our judiciary than any "activist judge."

The Politics of Oil

President Bush intends to ask Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah to boost Saudi Arabia’s oil production when the two leaders meet later today. CNN reports that Bush believes an increase in Saudi production will help drive down oil and gas prices.

For the President, energy has long been first and foremost a national security issue. During the 2000 presidential election, CBS reported in Sept 2000 that Bush blasted Vice President Al Gore saying:

They have had seven-and-a-half years to develop a sound energy policy. They have had every chance to avoid the situation that confronts us today," Bush said.
CBS’ 2000 report continued:
Seeking to capitalize on consumers' oil anxiety, the Texas governor and former Texas oil man went to Michigan to lay out his supply-side energy plan.

Bush is pushing a $7.1 billion plan over 10 years to increase the nation's fuel sources, protect the environment and reduce the country's dependence on foreign oil. The most controversial part of his plan is a proposal to open up a portion of Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil exploration. The spectacular, 19-million acre preserve was put off limits to oil drilling by Congress two decades ago.
Bush has repeatedly asked Congress to pass energy legislation that he claims will eventually bring down gas costs by reducing U.S. dependence on imported oil. However, the President’s refusal to compromise on key components of the legislation (notably drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, among other components) has doomed the legislation.

The president also contends he can do little in the interim, prior to Congressional adoption of the Energy Bill, to lower energy costs. However, there is a lot he can do to encourage conservation and reduce US consumption of oil (starting with calling for higher fuel efficiency standards for automobiles in the Transportation bill also working its way through Congress).

Energy self-sufficiency starts not with reducing reliance on foreign producers, but with reducing demand here at home. The president’s failures to adopt measures that reduce energy demand have created a stronger dependence of foreign oil than existed in 2000.

Insurgents or Terrorists?

On Saturday, The Yellow Line called the arrest of a number of Iraqi insurgents a good sign and an indication that the insurgency is possibly weakening. Today, in the Fort Worth Star Telegram we hear a different story.

There is now evidence of a rise in large scale attacks, which would indicate the insurgency is regrouping, not weakening. But are these attacks rightfully dubbed insurgent actions or are they large-scale terrorist attacks? As the Star Telegram points out:

Some Pentagon officials say that the bigger-scale attacks reflect the frustration of terrorist commander and al Qaeda ally Abu Musab Zarqawi at the lack of attention that the roadside bombs are receiving at this stage of the war. Zarqawi figured that staging bigger attacks directly on his enemy would get more publicity.

The most optimistic analysis would be that Zarqawi is at the end-game, throwing everything he has left at a last-ditch effort to destabilize Iraq. The most pessimistic analysis would be that Zarqawi has found new, eager Iraqi recruits to carry out his bloodlust. Either way, it seems clear that Zarqawi is orchestrating these attacks—meaning they should be seen more as terrorism than as insurgency.

Every time there is a positive development in Iraq, we hear people say we’ve turned the corner. It is becoming more and more evident that the biggest corner will be the capture or death of Zarqawi. His defeat should be job #1 for American and Iraqi forces.

McCain/Kerrey in '08!

In today’s LA Times, Ronald Brownstein discusses the possibility of a powerful centrist candidate in the 2008 election. Brownstein concludes:

Yet if the two parties continue on their current trajectories, the backdrop for the 2008 election could be massive federal budget deficits, gridlock on problems like controlling healthcare costs, furious fights over ethics and poisonous clashes over social issues and Supreme Court appointments. A lackluster economy that's squeezing the middle-class seems a reasonable possibility too.

In such an environment, imagine the options available to Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) if he doesn't win the 2008 Republican nomination, and former Democratic Sen. Bob Kerrey of Nebraska, now that he's dropped his flirtation with running for mayor of New York. If the two Vietnam veterans joined for an all-maverick independent ticket, they might inspire a gold rush of online support — and make the two national parties the latest example of the Internet's ability to threaten seemingly impregnable institutions.

We can only hope.

It's the Religious Right That's "Out of Control"

Yesterday was the so-called Justice Sunday where religious leaders held a televised rally decrying the judicial filibusters as an attack on people of faith. Anger seethed from their every word. As reported in the Washington Post:

James Dobson, chairman of Focus on the Family, spoke from the church's pulpit and criticized the Supreme Court, seven of whose nine members were named by Republican presidents. The court's majority, Dobson said, "are unelected and unaccountable and arrogant and imperious and determined to redesign the culture according to their own biases and values, and they're out of control."

We are constantly bombarded by the Republican talking point that our judges are “out of control.” But how many cases are we talking about here? Obviously they mean abortion. Homosexual sex. Terri Schiavo. What else?

The Republicans have controlled the Congress and the Presidency for awhile now, but their social conservative base is still upset by what they see in society. The only branch left to blame is the Judiciary. But what happens when the current slate of judges are seated and our society still offends the Justice Sunday crowd?

Changing our judges will not change our society. The Religious Right and the politicians aligned with them are wrongly destabilizing our government over false pretenses. It is they, not the judiciary, that's out of control.

Saturday, April 23, 2005

This Woman Has No Idea How to Grift

Well, it’s safe to eat at Wendy’s again. AP is reporting that the finger-in-the-chili was just a big scam:

Scammer Anna Ayala has been arrested and will rightfully be going away for awhile. But I have to wonder, why’d she do it? It reminds me of the whole syringe in the Pepsi hoax back in 1993. Is putting disgusting foreign objects into your food or drink really the best way to pull a con job?

I mean, isn’t the idea behind grifting to not get a lot of attention, let alone national exposure? What was this woman thinking? It can’t be easy to get a hold of a severed finger. The Yellow Line’s advice: next time just drop a bobby pin in the chili, take the free-meal vouchers and call it a day.

Good News from Iraq

The Associated Press reports:

The U.S. military said Saturday it detained six men suspected of shooting down a civilian helicopter carrying 11 civilians north of Baghdad two days earlier. All 11 people on board — including six Americans — were killed, with the Bulgarian pilot gunned down by insurgents.

It is very heartening to see how quickly these criminals were apprehended. The arrests were made possible through information provided by Iraqi citizens, who are clearly becoming more and more willing to turn in the insurgents.

It also says a lot that these men did not come from some large base of operations but instead from two houses in Baghdad. If this is indicative of the current strength of the insurgency, it is clear that much improvement has been made. It may not really be an organized insurgency any more. Just a bunch of isolated, well-armed criminal elements more akin to anarchists than anything else. The Iraqis and US forces still have a significant challenge before them, but the situation is a lot more promising than where Iraq was a year ago.

The Pope, The Veep and The Spite of Dowd

Maureen Dowd offers up another over-the-top column in today’s New York Times. This one attempts to cast the new Pope as Dick Cheney’s doppelganger. And since “Dick Cheney” is Dowd’s usual shorthand for “Prince of Darkness, Lord of the Underworld, Usurper of Good and Smiter of Justice,” you can guess how many kind words she has for Benedict XVI.

In various parts of the column, Dowd refers to the Pope as: a Jurassic archconservative, Cardinal No, God's Rottweiler, Panzerkardinal, the Vatican’s Darth Vader, a militant and a bully and claims he plans to dismantle Vatican II. Somehow Dowd refrains from calling him the Nazi Pope, although just barely.

The Benedict XVI/Dick Cheney comparison is a convenient one for Dowd who, like many on the reactionary left, fails to see the difference between politics and religion and insists on classifying everyone solely by where they fall on the issue of abortion and homosexuality.

In a glaring bit of sophistry Dowd actually says: “[Ratzinger and Cheney] parted ways on the war - though Cardinal Ratzinger did criticize the U.N. But they agree that stem cell research and cloning must be curtailed.”

Doesn’t Dowd think that the whole “parted ways on the war” thing is a little bigger of an issue than agreeing on stem cell research? In fact, doesn’t the new Pope’s opposition to the war in Iraq actually indicate that he and Cheney might be fundamentally different thinkers with fundamentally different goals?

But Dowd is only concerned with “proving” that Benedict XVI is nothing but a lapdog to American conservatism. That, in fact, Catholicism itself is just one more boot on the neck of progress.

Of course, it’s much more complicated than Dowd would like us to believe. Although Cardinal Ratzinger did express some troubling social views, Benedict XVI and his Church are far, far more than just a force against liberal social values. And, despite what many in the US might think, their interests do not center on American politics.

Dowd accuses Benedict XVI and Cheney of being “absolutists who view the world in stark terms of good and evil.” By claiming these two men are one-and-the-same, Dowd’s view of the world seems to be just as absolutist.

Goodbye, Berlusconi. Hello, Berlusconi.

A common misconception that some Americans have is that Europeans are somehow more enlightened or better governed than we are. The best way to debunk this myth? Study Italian politics.

The latest from Rome is that Silvio Berlusconi, who just resigned as premier last week, may be back in power already. The AP via The New York Times reports:

Conservative leader Silvio Berlusconi formed a new government Saturday and will present his choice of Cabinet ministers to Italy's legislators for approval in the hopes of avoiding new elections.

Berlusconi received the mandate to govern at a meeting Friday with President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, just two days after quitting amid a power struggle with his coalition allies.

With his reconstituted government -- a technique used by past Italian premiers to strengthen faltering coalitions -- Berlusconi aims to improve his sagging popularity and remain in power until the next election, scheduled for mid-2006.

At least in America, if a politician has to resign from office, they never come back to power. Well, except for Marion Barry—but DC does like to think of its sensibilities as so very European.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Then We Just Need to Ban Fairy Tales

Cinderella is a bad influence on young girls research shows.

Yeah. O.k. That’s the problem with society. Too many wholesome stories.

All Environmentalism is Local

So, it’s Earth Day. But does anyone care? According to USA Today:

[W]hile polls show most Americans want clean air, clean water and wildlife protection, environmental issues rank low on their list of priorities — behind jobs, health care, education and national security.

"There's this paradox where Americans hold these views, but when it comes time to take action, there are many, many issues that trump environmental concerns," said Peter Teague, environmental programs director at the Nathan Cummings Foundation.

Here at The Yellow Line, we question if the problem with the environmental movement is that it’s, well, too global. When we hear about deforestation of the rainforests or ice caps melting or air quality declining in a city on the other side of the country, it seems too much to tackle. Not that it isn’t worth addressing, just that it’s inaccessible.

Like all politics, environmentalism is most successful when it goes local. the best way to preserve the land is to get people to connect with the land. And President Bush did just that today, according to CNN:

President George W. Bush is celebrating Earth Day with one of his favorite pastimes -- working the land. The president, who often is at odds with environmentalists, was scheduled to celebrate their holiday on Friday in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. He was to speak at the Cades Cove area near Townsend, Tennessee, after some quick restoration work on one of more than a dozen trails that originates there.

As a President, Bush has not made environmentalism anywhere near his top concern. But as a man, he has shown a passion for his own piece of land down in Crawford. We can learn from this. People are much more willing to focus on the environment that's right around them. In fact, according to the USA Today report, The Sierra Club has been working with people to do just that.

The Sierra Club has paired up with ranchers and hunters against increased oil and gas development in some Western states. The environmental law firm Earthjustice is working with Hispanic groups and public health advocates to fight air pollution in California's Central Valley, with American Indians to restore salmon runs in the Pacific Northwest, and with native Hawaiians to protect wildlife in Hawaii.

In all these cases, the environment is being preserved not because it is morally right but because it is vital to the community. Saving the Earth isn’t really a quest for beauty or moral correctness. It’s a quest to preserve nature so that we can continue interacting with it, continue being a part of it.

The Yellow Line’s favorite president understood man’s organic connection to the land.

To waste, to destroy our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them amplified and developed. ~Theodore Roosevelt, seventh annual message, 3 December 1907

The Moderate Ideology

Dean Esmay has a great, well, rant about The Yellow Line’s “Moderates Under Attack” post and Joe Gandelman’s “Political Moderates: Clueless or Crucial” post. I wanted to respond on his comments section, but my account over there is still pending. So I thought I’d share these thoughts here:

“Moderate” is such a poor name for what I am, but there isn’t a word for my place on the political spectrum. Liberals disagree with me because I reject their core belief that the world is defined by a struggle between the oppressed (who, in the liberal world, need special protections no matter what) and the oppressors (which pretty much means anyone who isn’t oppressed). But conservatives disagree with me because I oppose the social-conservative agenda and because I think corporations shouldn’t receive special privileges or be free from regulation.

But I’m not moderate in a mushy, spineless way. In fact, I most often think I’m right and my opponents are wrong. And I think compromise is worthless unless it’s actually strong enough to solve the problem and not just give lip service to it. I AM moderate in rhetoric though. I agree with Dean that it is shameless to call the President a Nazi. Nothing positive comes from the demonizing of opponents. I prefer debate. Loud, forceful, even rude debate—as long as both sides are having to think and are making real arguments rather than just repeating talking points and believing their “side” is infallible.

I am a moderate because I have no other word. Centrist because my positions are split between the parties. And I criticize MoveOn and Move America Forward not because I think they don’t have the right to attack members of their own party but because I see both parties becoming rigid in their beliefs, closed off to new ideas. And groups like MoveOn and MAF are the enforcers of this rigidity. They have the right to do it. But it is bad for our system and I will fight them on it. They are heading us down a path where moderates (and I mean free thinkers, untied to the party line) will be forced to capitulate or will be unwelcome in either party.

I want politicians who show intellectual curiosity, whose strong ideals don’t compromise their ability to think clearly. I’d rather vote for someone I only agree with 60% of the time but who is willing to debate the other 40% than one I agree with 90% of the time but who could care less that others disagree on that 10%.

All is fair in love, war and politics. And if voters want parties of rigid conformity then that’s the way they can run the system. But I think it’s wrong. And I think it can change. And I think we can change it. I’m idealistic that way. And that’s really not very moderate, is it?

Krauthammer is Just as Bad as DeLay

In his weekly Washington Post column, Charles Krauthammer manages to go from sagacious to thuggish in just a few graphs.

He begins:

Provocation is no excuse for derangement. And there has been plenty of provocation: decades of an imperial judiciary unilaterally legislating radical social change on the flimsiest of constitutional pretexts. But while that may explain, it does not justify the flailing, sometimes delirious attacks on the judiciary mounted by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

While Krauthammer is completely overreacting when he claims that the courts have radically and unjustifiably interpreted our constitution, his take on DeLay is right on the mark.

Krauthammer then goes into why he feels Brown v. Board was properly decided but how just about all subsequent cases involving judicial decree were unjustified. While we at The Yellow Line do question the rationale of a few cases over the decades, Krauthammer is over the top in his criticisms. But that’s not where he becomes thuggish.

At the end of his column, he concludes:

Yet the recent eruptions of DeLay, Cornyn and some of their fellows may, like FDR's court-packing overreaching in 1937, have a salutary effect after all -- scaring the bejesus out of judges, maybe even shocking them into a little bit of humility, something that does not seem to come to them naturally.

So threats against judges are justified so long as they succeed in getting the judges to moderate their rulings? What’s Krauthammer thinking? FDR never threatened judges with removal or violence. By suggesting that DeLay’s ends might justify his deplorable means, Krauthammer shows himself to be no better than those he claims to admonish.

Is building an embassy really an emergency?

The US Senate voted Wednesday to approve $592 million for a new embassy in Baghdad as part of the emergency supplemental spending bill for military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan working its way through Congress. The House approved its version of the bill on March 16th.

In the past, natural disasters or unforeseen military action required Congress to pass emergency legislation appropriating money to meet the need. However, in recent years, “emergency” legislation has been used to fund special projects and circumvent the federal budget.

Let’s take a closer look at the emergency spending bill working through Congress. Though many extraneous measures were stricken from the bill each of the following provisions are included in either the House –passed, Senate –passed versions, or both versions of the bill:
• $592 million in funding for the construction of a new U.S. embassy in Baghdad
• $594 million for counternarcotics efforts and police training in Afghanistan
• $372 million for health and reconstruction projects in Afghanistan
• $656 million for tsunami disaster relief
• $17 million for security for Afghan President Hamid Karzai's government
• $81.4 billion for disaster relief and refugee assistance in Sudan
• $14.5 million for new tsunami-detection buoys in the Pacific, Atlantic, Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico
• $580 million for peacekeeping missions.
• Provisions that increase Servicemember Group Life Insurance benefits from $250,000 to $400,000
• Provisions that increase the one-time death benefit from $12,000 to $100,000 for members of the military
• $470 million for food aid for developing nations (Senate version; only $150 million in the House version)
• $390 million to boost U.S. border security

According to CongressDaily (sorry, subscription required, can’t provide the link),
“the bill contains large sums for Pentagon programs that will stretch far beyond this fiscal year, such as the modernization and restructuring of combat arms, as well as billions for 'quality of life' improvements for military members and their families and the replacement of worn-out or destroyed equipment.”

As these provisions are categorized as “emergency spending” they are not subject to the regular appropriations process and do not count against the federal budget. While the Yellow Line supports these worthy projects, we believe that only true emergency measures should be included in the supplemental bill.

These measures should be subject to the same process as other federal expenditures. Or perhaps Congress and the Administration can adopt an “emergency measure” to ensure that our nation’s schools and health care systems receive the funding that they also desperately need?

The House Appropriations Committee passed version of the emergency supplemental is here. The Senate version is here.

Oh, Canada

AP reports:

[Canadian] Prime Minister Paul Martin apologized to the nation Thursday night for a corruption scandal that has shaken his Liberal Party, delivering a rare televised address aimed at rescuing his minority government.

That’s odd. Doesn’t Martin know it’s all just a liberal media conspiracy? Delay could teach the Canadians so much.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

A Message from John Kerry

Do you miss John Kerry? Yeah, neither do we. But Kerry misses you and has released this video called “Give Voice to Our Values.”

If you’re driving or operating heavy machinery and don’t want to risk mixing that with a Kerry speech, let The Yellow Line summarize.

“We face a lot of challenges. Namely Republicans. Republicans are bad. Delay. Frist. Satan. All Republicans. We should fight them. Fight them hard. Stand up for what we value. Which is, of course—and I don’t mean to digress but I am John Kerry and I’ve never met a clause I didn’t want to embrace or at least take out for fine wine, maybe a little sailing or some skiing in Montana with its beautiful vistas. And its Republicans. Lots of Republicans in Montana. Republicans who are ruining this country. Just trashing it. We value their defeat. Really, really value their defeat. And healthcare. Healthcare and the end to Republicanism. Those are our values. Support our values. I’m John Kerry.”

Trouble for Wal-Mart

There’s a new coalition of unions, environmentalists and women’s rights groups claiming Wal-Mart is bad for the nation. Wal-Mart Watch is a slick new advocacy group that just launched a massive media effort to convince Americans that Wal-Mart’s low pay and poor benefits is costing us $1.5 billion a year in federal tax dollars paid out for food stamps, Medicaid and housing subsidies to Wal-Mart employees.

According the AP Wal-Mart was quick to denounce the group.

"This is just one more example of labor unions playing fast and loose with the facts in an attempt to discredit Wal-Mart," Wal-Mart spokeswoman Mona Williams said. "We don't know where they got these numbers. And most sources they cite are from dubious studies they commissioned."

The Yellow Line took a look at Wal-Mart Watch’s research (available as a PDF file here) and the group readily admits the $1.5 billion is an extrapolation based on what one, 200-employee store might cost tax payers if employees took the federal assistance they’d possibly be eligible for. We’re not talking about rock-solid numbers here.

Wal-Mart could very likely do better by its employees, but should we be working towards drastically reforming the retail industry or should we be finding ways to insure Americans don’t have to make low-level service jobs their career? And how many of the problems we see are due to Wal-Mart’s capitalist ambitions and how many are due to a healthcare system that is overly reliant on employers for funding?

The answers are not readily obvious. But we should frame the debate in ways more expansive than “Wal-Mart is bad and their employees areoppressed.” There’s far more to it.

Are We a Nation of Wimps?

George Will think so.

The Yellow Line notes we might need grief counseling to deal with this coulmn.

A new era for NATO

CNN is reporting that NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have signed an agreement that will allow joint military exercises and eventually a joint military capability between the alliance and its former adversary.

The agreement marks a historic point for the Alliance that was originally established to counter the Soviet threat.

CNN also reports that during the NATO-Russia Council this week, talks will be held on turning the trans-Atlantic alliance into the primary venue for political dialogue on international issues, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and democratic reform in the Middle East.

This is a noble goal.

However, we cannot forget that democratic reforms must progress in Eastern Europe itself. NATO members must continue to support our new friends in Eastern Europe and work to promote further democratization throughout the region, including Russia itself.

Corporate Responsibility?

The Associated Press reported today that $42 million was raised to finance the 2004 Presidential Inaugural festivities. According to the report, the range of companies that donated $250,000 to serve as inaugural “underwriters” included The Home Depot, Exxon Mobil Corp., Burlington Northern & Santa Fe railroad, FedEx Corp, Pfizer, Ford Motor Co., First Data Corp., the Wachovia Corp. financial services company, and Time Warner. Marriott International donated $500,000 and the National Association of Home Builders donated at least $305,000. Several other companies donated $100,000.

The report also lists several individuals who donated large sums to help finance the Inaugural festivities.

The Inauguration of the President is a joyous event that deserves a celebration equal to the occasion. However, in the same spirit as campaign finance reform, donations to fund inaugural balls should be regulated.

With specific regard to corporate donations, companies have an obligation to their shareholders to increase the profits and productivity of their companies. Rather than supporting an Inaugural Ball or a campaign, corporate bosses have an obligation to their customers and their shareholders to reinvest profits into the company or provide a dividend to their shareholders. Every individual in America has the opportunity to contribute his/her own funds to the both campaigns and the Inaugural Festivities if they wish. Corporate bosses should not make the decisions on who to donate to and how much to donate for their shareholders.

Let’s take the money out of campaigns (and inaugural balls) and make politics about ideas.

(Note: I attended the 2001 Presidential Inaugural Ball on a corporate ticket donated to a political organization I was then employed at.)

The Center for Responsive Politics is a non-partisan, non-profit research group based in Washington, D.C. that tracks money in politics, and its effect on elections and public policy. You can get more data on who gave what to who here.

The Poison of Roe v. Wade

David Brooks is known for considered thought, not hysteria. So his column in today's New York Times should not be quickly thrown aside. You need to read the whole piece, but here’s an excerpt:

Justice Harry Blackmun did more inadvertent damage to our democracy than any other 20th-century American. When he and his Supreme Court colleagues issued the Roe v. Wade decision, they set off a cycle of political viciousness and counter-viciousness that has poisoned public life ever since, and now threatens to destroy the Senate as we know it.

When Blackmun wrote the Roe decision, it took the abortion issue out of the legislatures and put it into the courts. If it had remained in the legislatures, we would have seen a series of state-by-state compromises reflecting the views of the centrist majority that's always existed on this issue. These legislative compromises wouldn't have pleased everyone, but would have been regarded as legitimate.

Brooks concludes:

Harry Blackmun and his colleagues suppressed that democratic abortion debate the nation needs to have. The poisons have been building ever since. You can complain about the incivility of politics, but you can't stop the escalation of conflict in the middle. You have to kill it at the root. Unless Roe v. Wade is overturned, politics will never get better.

David Brooks is not a social conservative, mind you. And it would be unfair to construe his argument as just another attempt to ban abortion. In fact, Brooks is on record as generally pro-choice. What he’s doing in this column is finding the birth of today’s vitriolic politics in the anger spawned by Roe v Wade.

Brooks is right that little is gained when debate is denied. Here at The Yellow Line, we’ve always felt that much of the current anger towards President Bush is a result of his administration’s preference for decree over debate. The President even has his staff screen out dissenters from his town hall meetings.

Did Roe initiate this culture of absolutism over debate? Of zero-sum politics over compromise? Whatever your beliefs on abortion, it’s hard to deny that the issue has hurt American politics more than any other issue of the last quarter century. Unfortunately, overturning Roe v Wade may do little to temper passions.

Then again, making abortion proponents and opponents fight it out in state governments across the nation might be good for us all. It won’t be pretty, but at least everyone will get a chance to speak. When debate is denied, there’s nothing left to do but scream. But when debate is allowed, real solutions can arise. Overturning Roe v Wade might not be the worst thing for our nation. We know where pro-lifers stand. It’s time for pro-choice people to have a debate.

What's So Hard About a Real Filibuster?

A story in The Hill reports:

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), a leading advocate of the “nuclear option” to end the Democrats’ filibuster of judicial nominees, is privately arguing for a delay in the face of adverse internal party polls.

Apparently the American people aren't so convinced that the Senate needs to be silencing debate. We agree. But we've said it before and we'll say it again: the Senate should have a real filibuster. Make the Dems get up and actually talk until their voices go hoarse. That's the intent of the filibuster rule. And that's the proper resolution to this conflict. Why shouldn't we expect our Senators to have to truly fight for something they believe?

Dean's World agrees. As does Pennywit.

Thanks to Charging RINO on the tip on The Hill story.

MoveOn is Wrong to Attack Hoyer

A number of readers here and at Centerfield have argued that is justified in its attack on Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) because the bankruptcy bill is a bad bill (MoveOn’s ad can be heard here). But should one vote on one bill open up a congressman to public attacks from his own party?

The issue isn't whether Hoyer made the "right" decision on one bill. The issue is that American politics is being consumed by groups such as MoveOn who want government to be run on partisanship, where decisions are made on high by party hardliners and then dutifully executed by elected officials.

Steny Hoyer has been a solid Democrat on many, many issues and a strong moderate voice in a too-often polarized House. As Raw Story reports even MoveOn admits Hoyer is a good Democrat. MoveOn Washington director Tom Matzzie responded to complaints that their actions were unfair by saying:

Mr. Hoyer has a good record on a lot of issues and we like him… but it’s never acceptable for a leader in the party… to disagree with the rest of the party on an issue connected to core values like justice for middle class values, especially when it’s such an obvious Republican bill.

But Hoyer wasn’t some renegade on this issue. As reported in the Baltimore Sun, Hoyer was just one of 73 Democrats who voted for the bill. But instead of fostering a clearly much-needed debate within the party, MoveOn is using harsh, disciplinary tactics to weaken a party leader.

MoveOn doesn’t want debate. MoveOn wants conformity to its vision. And it’s that attitude that is so worrisome for moderates. If congressmen and women fear reprisal for voting “wrongly” on so much as one bill, there will be no room for centrists.

The question is not whether you agree with Hoyer’s vote but whether you want political parties that use their money and power to silence all dissent and all moderates in their own party.

For more on this issue, check out The Moderate Voice’s excellent coverage on the threat to centrism.

Update: for even more on this issue, we've posted thoughts here

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Have Something to Say?

Inspired by this great discussion over at Centerfield pertaining The Yellow Line's Moderates Under Attack post, we've decided to add the opportunity to comment on our posts.

We've never had comments before because, well, we didn't know if we'd have the time to monitor them. But we've gotten so many great e-mails from readers over the last months that we thought y'all should have the chance to share them with each other. Keep it relatively civil and we'll keep it going!

Of course, you can always still e-mail us.

We look forward to hearing what all of you have to say.

Prescription Drug Importation is Not a Real Solution

The LA Times is reporting that former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. David A. Kessler is supporting a senate plan that would allow Americans to bring in lower-cost prescription drugs from outside the United States.

Safeguards proposed in legislation by Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) would protect consumers from substandard and counterfeit drugs, Kessler told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He had criticized earlier proposals as too weak on safety.

Because of government controls, brand-name drugs in European nations and in Canada are commonly 35% to 55% cheaper than in the United States. Americans annually import an estimated 10 million shipments of medicines from abroad in an unregulated and technically illegal market.

"We already have a system of importation of drugs that jeopardizes public health," said Kessler, who led the FDA from 1990 to 1997 under Republican and Democratic administrations. "I believe Congress has the responsibility to fix this serious problem…. The American public will be safer with a regulated system than with the current system of uncontrollable risk."

The article says the bill has a decent chance of passing. But here’s what’s always bothered me about the whole drug-importation debate. Instead of bringing in drugs from other countries, why don’t we find ways to lower costs here? The drug-importation law is probably necessary to insure a currently common practice is safer. But congress is abdicating its responsibility to the American people if it thinks this is a real solution to the problem.

Prescription Drug Importation is Not a Real Solution

The LA Times is reporting that former Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. David A. Kessler is supporting a senate plan that would allow Americans to bring in lower-cost prescription drugs from outside the United States.

Safeguards proposed in legislation by Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Olympia J. Snowe (R-Maine) would protect consumers from substandard and counterfeit drugs, Kessler told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. He had criticized earlier proposals as too weak on safety.

Because of government controls, brand-name drugs in European nations and in Canada are commonly 35% to 55% cheaper than in the United States. Americans annually import an estimated 10 million shipments of medicines from abroad in an unregulated and technically illegal market.

"We already have a system of importation of drugs that jeopardizes public health," said Kessler, who led the FDA from 1990 to 1997 under Republican and Democratic administrations. "I believe Congress has the responsibility to fix this serious problem…. The American public will be safer with a regulated system than with the current system of uncontrollable risk."

The article says the bill has a decent chance of passing. But here’s what’s always bothered me about the whole drug-importation debate. Instead of bringing in drugs from other countries, why don’t we find ways to lower costs here? The drug-importation law is probably necessary to insure a currently common practice is safer. But congress is abdicating its responsibility to the American people if it thinks this is a real solution to the problem.

A Tax Break for the Not-So-Wealthy

Former Clinton Administration economic advisor Gene Sperling writes in Bloomberg about a new plan to help lower wage workers save money. Sperling claims that a flat tax would do nothing but lower taxes on the wealthy without helping most Americans. But another tax initiative could help:

The most important step would be to create a bold, new ``universal'' 401(k) that is portable, more automatic and that offers to lower-income Americans a 2-to-1 match and to middle- income earners a 1-to-1 match -- all through a refundable matching tax credit.

An important policy that would complement the ``universal'' 401(k), or that could be passed separately, would be to give all Americans a 30 percent flat-tax credit for savings that is refundable. So when a chief executive officer and the person cleaning his office save a dollar, they would both get the same tax credit.

Part of the cost for doing that is paid by lowering the savings deduction rate for the top bracket from 35 percent to 30 percent. And simply requiring the wealthiest 4,500 estates each year to continue paying estate taxes -- as opposed to complete repeal as President George W. Bush is proposing and the House of representatives just passed last week -- would save enough to fund a robust wealth-creation agenda for tens of millions of Americans that would include a universal 401(k) and such a flat tax-incentive for savings.

This isn’t a government handout. This is a tax break. The difference? A handout requires nothing of the recipient. A tax break requires the recipient to be a contributing, responsible member of society.

This is the kind of progressive idea we need to help out those who are working hard but getting nowhere. It rewards hard work and it rewards responsibility. Sperling’s ideas might not be perfect, but they definitely move the debate in the right direction.

Amidst it All, Genocide Continues

The Coalition for Darfur has an excellent post comparing what the media was focused on during the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and what they are focused on now as genocide continues in the Darfur region of Sudan.

Why do our media fail to significantly cover these atrocities? Is it too difficult? Does it not interest them? Do they think their audience is too superficially, preferring the Michael Jackson trial (now) or the OJ Simpson car chase (back in 1994)?

If journalism exists for any higher purpose than to entertain, then we have to ask, where are the stories on Darfur? Yes, they pop up in the The New York Times and Washington Post and other opinion pages from time to time. But last week when Senator Frist gave a wonderful and impassioned speech on our need to do more in Darfur, the major newspapers barely mentioned it and the news channels ignored it.

Journalism is a for-profit business, which is fine. But that does not absolve them of responsibility. Each of us should be doing something to stop the Darfur genocide. But journalists should be expected to do more. They are the gatekeepers and they can set the agenda.

And yet the media is ignoring Darfur as it ignored Rwanda. Where are the stories?